The Hunted by Kerry Barnes - book review: Prepared to be hooked from page one

The Hunted by Kerry Barnes
The Hunted by Kerry Barnes

As a woman in a world of male gangsters, Zara Ezra has learned that to come out on top, you have to play these brutal men at their own game.

But she also knows that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to crime… and it is dangerously easy to become the hunted rather than the hunter.

Kerry Barnes, who grew up on a council estate in south-east London and defied the odds to qualify for a career in microbiology and medicine, is fast becoming one of the go-to queens of gangland crime with a string of hard-hitting, edge-of-the-seat thrillers.

In The Hunted, the first book of a gripping series starring a ruthless but charismatic gang leader and the woman destined to become the head of her own crime ‘firm,’ Barnes serves up a feast of fast-paced action and graphic violence, and a story so full of menace that it will have readers running for cover.

Having spent her life watching her Jewish father Izzy run his East London ‘firm’ from behind his jewellers’ shop, Zara Ezra has learnt a thing or two about being a gangster, and she’s more than ready to take over when the time comes.

Her ‘cold stares’ and ‘stern tone’ are already gaining her a reputation in the underworld which recognises that ruthless Izzy’s daughter might be beautiful but she is already a woman to be reckoned with.

But Zara has a secret weak spot in the shape of rival gang leader, Mike Regan, a man mountain with a chest ‘as wide as a doorframe’ who married another woman – a union he has long since regretted – and who still holds a place in her heart.

Equally, Mike still holds a torch for the enigmatic Zara but he also has a six-year-old son, Ricky, and the boy is the apple of his dad’s eye. And when Ricky is kidnapped in the middle of a bitter gangland feud with the scheming, traitorous Harman brothers, Mike has no choice but to accept help from the Ezras to get his little boy back alive.

With the Harmans playing increasingly dirty, murder soon moves to the top of the agenda and Zara has some big choices to make… choices that could affect her future in more ways than one.

Barnes takes no prisoners when it comes to playing out the gritty realities of gangland warfare, taking us on white-knuckle journey through the back streets of East London with some of the scariest henchmen in crime fiction, and witnessing them dishing out their own merciless brand of revenge.

This is a tale of betrayal, long-held grudges, rivalry and retribution between warring criminal families whose dark history stretches back through several decades and still burns like a river of fire through a new generation of gangsters.

Mike is the classic bad guy/good guy, a ‘gentleman’ crook with a hidden heart and a softer side that betrays his gangster heritage; and then there’s Zara, the kick-ass crime queen with a layer of vulnerability that makes her such a likeable star.

Barnes certainly knows how to ramp up the tension and deliver some eye-watering violence, but she also lands an unexpected emotional punch that has the power to elicit tears of a very different kind.

Prepared to be hooked from page one…

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)