Fresh Blood

Name: Tom Benn

Title of Book: The Doll Princess

'...I believe this novel, his first, will gain cult status in the coming years.'

Henry Bane reads about the murder of an Egyptian socialite who is front page news. Buried deeper in the newspaper is another brutal murder which shocks Bane to his core. It is this second death of a cheap prostitute that leads Bane on a path of discovery and revenge. For this second death was once the love of Bane’s life, a childhood sweetheart who he should have protected. Now he can no longer protect her, but he can avenge her. But first he must penetrate the cold exterior of the whore he calls ‘The Doll Princess’ to get to the inner circle he blames for this brutal murder.

Taking him through a Manchester in the 90’s, ravaged by the IRA, Bane insinuates himself deep in the murky depths of the city he grew up in. Soon Bane is beaten, bludgeoned, shot at but still determined. And by the time Bane finally arrives at the truth, there will be a veritable pile of bodies left in Bane’s wake.

‘The Doll Princess’ is written in the vernacular Mancunian and it took me a little while to enter the rhythm of this novel, and when you do it grips like a vice and you are transported to a Manchester that appears like a character in the book – brooding, breathing, menacing. The book is driven by dialogue which is staccato and as sharp as a stiletto. For a debut novel it is breathtaking that this writer writes such incredible dialogue that drives the plot with the force of a fist connecting with Henry Bane’s face.

Some authors dream of writing such pure dialogue that shows a thousand emotions and tells a hundred tales of despair in a few simple words. But this is not only a crime novel. It is shot with dark humour. Not only do we have the Millennium’s answer to Tom Ripley’s anti-hero, we have solid and believable characters like Bane’s best mate, Gordon and his dad and Maz who you’d be well advised never to buy a car from.

‘The Doll Princess’ is a fresh tour-de-force that defies you to categorise it simply as a ‘crime novel’. It shows the light and dark of humanity, good and evil in its purest form and how a man can watch your back whilst holding a knife to your spine. Benn is an exciting new talent and I believe this novel, his first, will gain cult status in the coming years. He is Manchester’s answer to Irvine Welsh. And if ‘The Doll Princess’ isn’t made in to a cult film then I’ll eat my review! Read it, enjoy and watch a major literary talent blossom before your very eyes!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) What first made you want to write a crime novel?
I didn’t set out to write a crime novel, although I’ve always admired the genre. The Doll Princess bled out of another novel I was working on during my undergrad. Henry Bane was a character in this earlier book, before I recast him as the narrator of The Doll Princess. I had a much clearer idea of where I wanted to take him in The Doll Princess, and his journey quickly became a murder-mystery, pushing Bane into the role of amateur detective.
2) You are a graduate of the UEA Writing Course MA. Did you always want to be a writer?
I’ve always written. I grew up watching a lot of classic Hollywood, and Film Noir is probably where my interest in crime fiction began. It’s the reason I first took Raymond Chandler out of the library. Later in my teens, I mostly read comic books, and the prose I did read was by authors like Mary Gaitskill, Kathy Acker and Dennis Cooper. University broadened my tastes and that encouraged me to keep writing. But I never thought I’d be published. I’ve been extremely lucky so far.
3) The dialogue is written phonetically in the Manchester accent. What made you decide to write in this way?
Vernacular fiction is something I enjoy reading, and it felt like the most natural way of depicting my characters’ speech. Their voices drive the novel. I usually draft my dialogue first and then fill in the rest. The rest takes longer.
4) Henry Bane is a loveable rogue although he certainly has his bad points. Was there a person who inspired you to create Bane in their image? And why did you make this anti-hero your main protagonist?
Nobody was the sole inspiration for Bane, but most of the characters in The Doll Princess, Bane included, borrow aspects from certain people I’ve met.

Bane’s status in the underworld gives him more freedom to do what he wants and to go where he likes, in a way that an honest police detective couldn’t. This is vicariously satisfying and narratively convenient.
5) ‘The Doll Princess’ is very ‘Noir’ and gives a very bleak portrait of the darker side of Manchester. Have you always wanted to write a novel in the ‘Noir’ vein?
I love the urgency and economy of a lot of early American detective fiction, and this was something I tried to appropriate. I also wanted to revisit Manchester at a dark moment in the city’s history, from a perspective that wasn’t my own.

Bane visits the deck-access flats in Hulme near the city centre, which are no longer there. I used to go regularly as a child to visit family, and thought the crescents were astonishing. When I wrote old Hulme into The Doll Princess, through Bane’s voice, the place became liminal and malevolent. The book had to be set after the IRA bombing, as I didn’t want it to dominate, but before the city had begun to regenerate, and its landscape became more anonymous.
6) Your novel deals with the darker side of illegal immigrants and prostitution. What was it about these two issues that currently dominate our tabloids that fired your imagination for this book?
They had to be there but wrote themselves further into the book than I’d planned. Maybe because they would be such an unavoidable presence in the world Bane inhabits.
7) I really enjoyed the larger than life characters like Maz, Gordon and his taxi driving dad. Will we be hearing from them again in the next novel?
Thank you. And yes, they’re all back for more.
8) ‘The Doll Princess’ finishes on a ‘cliffhanger’. Will the second Bane novel start directly from the end of the first?
It begins about eighteen months after the events of The Doll Princess.
9) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
I have a few favourites...The Big Sleep (‘46), Kiss Me Deadly, Rififi, Get Carter (‘71), Angel Heart.
10) What is your ultimate favourite read crime of all time?
‘Red Harvest’ by Dashiell Hammett.