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Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks review – gangsters, ghosts and raw pleasure

This impressive debut about a young woman’s journey through 1970s London and Bristol to the mystical rituals of Jamaica has been longlisted for the Women’s prize

In this startling debut novel, longlisted for the Women’s prize, a young woman is lured into an underworld of violent gangsters, and communes with her Jamaican ancestors through DJ toasting over dub music. Jacqueline Crooks has crafted a richly textured world, artfully drawing on her youthful experience of raves and gangs in 1970s west London, as well as supernatural beliefs in Obeah (an African diasporic tradition of healing and spell-casting).

The second-generation Caribbean migrants in Fire Rush are habituated to life under surveillance, at risk from the kind of assault that can lead to a police morgue. It’s safer underground, at a London club called The Crypt, home to dancehall dub nights with wardrobe-sized speakers. There Yamaye, a committed reveller, breathes in the ***** clouds and hangs out with her sistren, Rumer and Asase. They groove to lovers rock, resisting the “dry-mouthed suggestions” of hungry men entranced by their bodies “rippling like seagrass”. The Crypt offers Yamaye and her gyals relief from factory work and their tower block homes on the Tombstone Estate, “where grey-white curtains billow like spirits at dark windows and metal coffin lifts shuttle between heaven and ****”.

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