Toto Amongst the Murderers, Sally J. Morgan
1973, from art school to shared housing in run-down Leeds, and Jude (aka Toto) is a chaotic, wild child, living a reckless, slightly crazy life, thoroughly enjoying her youth, blissfully unconnected with the news of random attacks on woman that keep showing up on the news.
What a wild ride TOTO AMONG THE MURDERERS was - it could leave the reader with a decided longing for the good old mad, bad, crazy days of teenage-hood, when you could get away with hitchhiking, moving from share house to share house, wandering about with little idea of where you were going or what you'd end up doing. Or it could leave readers wondering how the hell previous generations survived. Especially when the casual references to Fred and Rosemary West are thrown into the mix.
Beautifully executed this coming of age story, combined with thriller aspects, was really a roller-coaster. Toto is a great character, mad, wild, restless, seemingly without a care in the world, or a foot in reality. Yet she sees things like the plight of neighbour Janice; and what her boyfriend's behaviour is doing to her best friend Nel.
It seems there's some fact behind the fiction here, involving the author and her own personal encounters with the West's, so it's not hard to believe that a fair amount of this novel is influenced by personal experience. Having said that, the West encounter is kind of less important overall than the coming of age aspects that the young women - Jude and her friend Nel in particular - experience. The story of friendship, self-preservation, love and respect for others really shines through. The way that they hang onto the things that matter in the face of a heap of obstacles - from the sorts of no-future jobs girls had to put up with then; share houses and the problems of flatmates from hell; idiot boyfriends; dysfunctional families; rang very true and made for really engaging reading.
Where TOTO AMONG THE MURDERERS really shone, actually glowed with the light of determination and gloriousness, is in the way it illuminated young women, as they really are. With all the doubts, thoughts, feelings, and desires. Reckless, clever, daft as a brush, brave and crazy. The whole thing is not just beautifully executed and car crash fascinating, it's very reaffirming in a most unexpected manner.
It is 1973 and Jude - known to her friends as Toto - has just graduated from art school and moves into a house in a run-down part of Leeds. Jude is a chaotic wild child who flirts with the wrong kind of people, drinks too much and gets stoned too often. Never happy to stay in one place for very long, her restlessness takes her on hitchhiking jaunts up and down the country. Her best friend, Nel, is the only steady influence Jude has but Nel's life isn't as perfect as it seems.
Reports of attacks on women punctuate the news and Jude takes off again, suffocated by an affair she has been having with a married woman. But what she doesn't realise is that the violence is moving ever closer to home: there is Janice across the road who lives in fear of being beaten up again by her pimp and Nel, whose perfect life is coming undone at her boyfriend's hands. At the same time infamous murderers, Fred and Rosemary West, are stalking the country, on the lookout for girls like Jude.