To begin at the end: when you approach the final chapters of this intricate, entangled and absorbing philosophical investigation, it’s best to batten down the hatches and settle in for the long haul. You’ll reach a point where JJ Stoner, the semi-retired ex-soldier and almost-ex-assassin (but not quite: killing people is a habit which dies hard) appears to have most everything that’s still alive and squealing firmly under control. The dead guys are definitely not a problem. Stoner’s seductive female companion isn’t currently trying to kill him, which bodes well for the prospect of explicit activities between consenting adults (if books came with age restrictions then this one is definitely an ‘18’).
At this moment you, the audience, might be tempted to cram the concluding scenes into a rushed reading session, eager to reach completion.
That would be a mistake.
I’ve read very few thrillers which pack such a formidable punch in their final pages. This is an ending full of flinch-inducing, visceral violence – but the assault isn’t simply physical. Instead it delivers an all-out offensive on the emotions. It’s a jaw-dropping dénouement which you simply should not rush. So turn off your phone, lock your door, lay in a supply of Pringles and compose yourself.
Oh, yeh, and there’s the whole rest of a book attached to the finale…
The clue to ‘The Corruption Of Chastity’ is in that ambiguous title with its many possible meanings. On one level it’s deceptively playful in its sexual innuendo. From another perspective, it’s chillingly and challengingly sinister. And that encapsulates the spirit of the Killing Sisters series. These books intend to obfuscate while they entertain. Author Frank Westworth deliberately distracts with snappy one-liners and bouncing banter, then whip-cracks through 180 degrees to carefully choreographed, bone-splintering action scenes. One moment things will be getting seriously steamy in every sense, and in the next heartbeat you’ll be confronted with a monstrous moral dilemma.
Few subjects seem to be taboo. Death and sex take centre stage, as you’d expect in a crime-thriller which examines the moral and mental ambiguities of men and women who kill for fun and money. But ‘Chastity’ also takes a skewed sideways glance at many other aspects of society, politics and people. Major religions, the (dis)honesty of ‘normal’ relationships, even the holidaying habit of the chattering classes – all come under inspection in a manner reminiscent of Trevanian and John D Macdonald.
So don’t pick up ‘Chastity’ expecting a run of the mill police procedural where Detective Inspector Tedious struggles to juggle a demanding domestic life, a wee bit of a drinky issue and a bullying boss. Don’t expect to like all (or maybe any) of the spiky, awkward, complicated characters. Don’t expect an easy ride: life’s not like that. And ‘Chastity’, for all that it is undeniably fiction, holds up a distorted mirror to reality, the better to reveal its bleak veracity.
If you haven’t read the first book in the Killing Sisters series (A Last Act Of Charity) then that doesn’t matter, you can start here. It’s recommended for readers who enjoy intelligent noir and complex plots and who aren’t easily offended. Put ‘Chastity’ on your shelf of ‘literary thrillers’, alongside the likes of Walter Mosley, Haruki Murakami and Derek Raymond. Fans of the Dragon Tattoo books will find much to enjoy, also.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Corruption Of Chastity by Frank Westworth is available as an ebook or paperback
Full and fair disclosure: this review is as honest as I can write and genuinely represents my opinion of this book. However, it’s only fair to add that I am married to the author, so you’re welcome to disregard everything I say on the subject on the grounds that – like most of his characters – I certainly can’t be trusted…