THE NOT KNOWING by Cathi Unsworth

Published by Serpent’s Tail  £7.99

(Review first posted at  – get over there for your latest cultural fix).

One of the best parts of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (Harrogate) is the discovering new authors that you haven’t read before.  Sometimes they are completely new and debut authors, other times (and often to my shame) they are writers who have been on the Crime Fiction circuit for some time and have simply missed my radar.

Such is the case with Cathi Unsworth, who this year is at the festival as part of the ‘Old Blood’ panel discussion – a meeting of those names who were, a few years back, debut novelists on the renowned ‘New Blood’ panel there.

Cathi (seen here with fellow crime writer Martyn Waites) has a style all of her own, edgy London based crime novels with hip soundtracks and great cultural reference points throughout her work.  The spattering of well known London institutions such as the ICA, the National Film Theatre, Guardian Lectures, pubs, clubs and shops such as Psychotronic Video all add to the realism of the tale, as do references to popular culture music and movies, with everything from Abel Ferrara to Texas Chainsaw Massacre mentioned.

The Not Knowing, set in 1992, is the story of a murder; that of hip gangster film director, Jon Jackson, shortly after the huge success of his movie ‘Bent’ which has spawned a whole generation of ‘Kray Klones’ – those who dress like gangsters Ronnie & Reggie.  It’s also the story of Diana Kemp, a young music, books and movie journalist who finds herself both following and becoming part of the crime story.

Kemp works for ‘Lux’ magazine, but references to her work on the NME and Melody Maker clearly mirror Cathi Unsworth’s own journalism past, and this is, as with many first novels, packed full of the author’s own loves and interests – in this case not a bad thing at all, as she clearly knows her stuff.

At the opening of the book, Kemp is glad to receive a parcel containing her press pass and a couple of review copies of new crime fiction titles for the upcoming Crimewave festival at the ICA.  The irony that this novel came to me from the lovely publishers at Serpent’s Tail (along with her other titles) so that I can review them and interview Cathi herself ahead of this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival was certainly not lost on me.

As with all good crime stories, the murderer is pretty well veiled amongst a cast of well rounded possible killers, from her own colleagues on the magazine, to a suspicious acting writer, to actors within the director’s hit movie.  It’s also got some nice back-stories and sub-plots with Diana Kemp appearing to be the re-incarnation of a famous movie star, Emily Davey, when she’d seen by fellow actor Niall Flynn.

The Not Knowing also includes a book within a book, as we are treated to some bizarre and dark passages from the other fiction that Diana reads prior to the Crimewave festival.  Specifically she focuses on ‘Weirdo’ by Simon Everill and is keen to discover more about the author and just where his ideas for the novel came from.

This is of particular interest as Cathi Unsworth’s next novel, due in 2012, is entitled ‘Weirdo’ – at this stage I do not know if this is a sequel of sorts to The Not Knowing or if it will be the Simon Everill book expanded to a novel – in either case, I am very excited about it.

The Not Knowing ticked all the boxes for me.

It was entertaining, fast moving, with lots of pop cultural references and, with the book being based around crime movies and a crime fiction festival, it couldn’t fail to excite me.


Highly recommended.

Really looking forward to catching up with Cathi’s other books now and to catching up with her at the festival in July.

For all the festival details and to book for your weekend break or events there, go to:

Keith B Walters


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