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Razorhurst
     

Razorhurst

4.0 1
by Justine Larbalestier
 

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"Vivid and bloody and bold and fast—I feel like Razorhurst is in my bones now."
—#1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert

The notoriously bloody history of a mob-run Sydney, Australia neighborhood is fertile ground for this historical thriller with a paranormal twist: two girls' ability to

Overview

"Vivid and bloody and bold and fast—I feel like Razorhurst is in my bones now."
—#1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert

The notoriously bloody history of a mob-run Sydney, Australia neighborhood is fertile ground for this historical thriller with a paranormal twist: two girls' ability to see the many ghosts haunting Razorhurst.
 
Sydney’s deadly Razorhurst neighborhood, 1932. Gloriana Nelson and Mr. Davidson, two ruthless mob bosses, have reached a fragile peace—one maintained by “razor men.” Kelpie, orphaned and homeless, is blessed (and cursed) with the ability to see Razorhurst’s many ghosts. They tell secrets that the living can’t know about the cracks already forming in the mobs’ truce.
 
Kelpie meets Dymphna Campbell, Gloriana’s prize moll, over the body of the latest of Dymphna’s beaus to meet an untimely end—a string that’s earned her the nickname the “Angel of Death.” Dymphna can see ghosts, too, and she knows that Gloriana’s hold is crumbling one henchman at a time. As loyalties shift and betrayal threatens the two girls at every turn, Dymphna is determined to rise to the top with Kelpie at her side.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Jennifer Hubert Swan
The Australian-American Larbalestier's scholarly background is on full display in her latest novel, with its meticulous attention to detail and strong emphasis on overlooked voices from history.
Publishers Weekly
★ 01/19/2015
In a place like Razorhurst—a slum of 1932 Sydney, where guns are outlawed and men kill with blades—it’s little surprise that Kelpie and Dymphna meet over the slit throat of a dead body. Though circumstance unites them, the girls couldn’t be more different: street urchin Kelpie stumbles upon Jimmy Palmer’s corpse while looking for food. Dymphna, though a teenager, looks and acts like an adult woman: she’s the top-earning prostitute in Glory Nelson’s criminal empire, and Jimmy is only the most recent of the dead lovers who have earned her the nickname “Angel of Death.” But both girls can see ghosts, and thanks to the cascading effects of Jimmy’s murder, both may die before the day ends. Larbalestier (Liar) packs plenty of danger into the single day this novel covers, but frequent interludes of backstory keep things from feeling rushed. The narrative also benefits from a colorful, well-rendered cast, human and ghost alike. While the writing style calls to mind fiction of an earlier era, this story’s interwoven intrigue and empathy make it feel timeless. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
★ 12/01/2014
Gr 9 Up—Larbalestier's latest features gritty historical fiction with a paranormal twist. The grim tale takes place in 1932 in a fictionalized version of Surry Hills neighborhood of Sydney, Australia. The neighborhood is dominated by two rival gangs, but because guns are illegal, violence is done using razor blades and gruesome scars are a common sight. The novel takes place over the course of one day and tells the story of two very different young women: Kelpie, a feral child raised by ghosts, and Dympha, a prostitute with a violent past who seems older than her years. Razorhurst introduces a historical period with which many North American readers may not be familiar. Though some of the events and character backstories border on improbable, the short chapters and multiple viewpoints keep things interesting. The ghosts are mostly peripheral to the story, though their presence emphasizes the bloody nature of the time period and provides occasional humor.—Eliza Langhans, Hatfield Public Library, MA
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-12-06
Kelpie sees ghosts. An orphaned street urchin in the slums of 1932 Sydney, she has learned to survive not only the ill intent of the living, but also the machinations of the bored dead, who stir up trouble for their own entertainment. Weakened by hunger, she lets a malicious shade lead her astray, catapulting her straight into a crisis that, like a carnival ride, will both thrill and nauseate readers. Along the way, she is alternately helped and foiled by her fellow inhabitants of Razorhurst, including femme fatale Dymphna Campbell, who coped with the trauma of her early life by refashioning herself as the city's most expensive prostitute. Dymphna's recently deceased paramour and protector, Jimmy Palmer, hounds the pair through the city, offering both good and bad advice as they try to escape the clutches of the two competing crime bosses on their trail. Straight from the opening lines, the suspenseful narrative is both dizzying and illuminating as it rotates among the characters, giving a nearly 360-degree perspective on the life-threatening mess that Kelpie and Dymphna find themselves in. Characters both living and dead reveal crucial pieces of the plot slowly over the course of one harrowing day. Larbalestier pulls no punches with the gruesome, gory details about the violence of poverty, and the result is a dark, unforgettable and blood-soaked tale of outlaws and masterminds. (glossary, author's note) (Historical suspense. 14 & up)
From the Publisher
Praise for Razorhurst

Sisters in Crime’s 15th Davitt Awards Longlist
A Bank Street College Best Children's Book

"Vivid... lavishly imagined. Larbalestier's elaborate world is sure to linger." 
—Los Angeles Times

"A day full of bloody confrontations, secret alliances and unexpected romance . . . fascinating setting, colorful names, and sharp, peppery dialogue."
—The New York Times Book Review

"Larbalestier weaves the history of Surry Hills into a story that is full of violence, sex, crime, corruption, nobility, love and lust, bringing a lost place to life even as she grabs us by the lapels and drags us through a fantastic supernatural caper story . . . This one takes [Larbalestier's] storytelling to a whole new level." 
—Cory Doctorow for BoingBoing.com

"Razorhurst is both fast-paced thriller and noir but with a paranormal twist . . . Larbalestier’s most compelling character isn’t a person or even a ghost but rather a place."
—Boston Herald

"Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier takes readers down a dark and dangerous story of mobs and those that desire power."
—Fresh Fiction 

"Vividly characterised and completely immersive, this unusual mix of noir, horror and historical fiction is engaging from the first line."
—Ethel Turner Prize Judges

"[Razhorhurst] is a grisly, teasing, frightening, beautiful book . . . The chase-and-caper plot comes in fast, staccato bursts . . . Still, unexpected kindness wells up through the cracks in story and style, showing how varied lives on the edge of desperation can find some kind of compromise that allows for hope."
Rain Taxi Review of Books

"The novel is edgy and bloody, and readers of gangster stories will love the dangerous situations that the characters experience. The added level of the supernatural gives this story another dimension, literally."
—The Historical Novel Society

"Larbalestier packs plenty of danger into the single day this novel covers, but frequent interludes of backstory keep things from feeling rushed. The narrative also benefits from a colorful, well-rendered cast, human and ghost alike. While the writing style calls to mind fiction of an earlier era, this story’s interwoven intrigue and empathy make it feel timeless."
Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review

"Characters both living and dead reveal crucial pieces of the plot slowly over the course of one harrowing day. Larbalestier pulls no punches with the gruesome, gory details about the violence of poverty, and the result is a dark, unforgettable and blood-soaked tale of outlaws and masterminds."
—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED Review

"Larbalestier’s latest features gritty historical fiction with a paranormal twist."
School Library Journal, STARRED Review

"Reading like a detailed painting in novel form, this haunting, gorgeously rendered supernatural/historical novel captures the rough and tumble world of gangsters and molls in all its bloody, vicious glory... The novel is as much about the place and time as it is about the young women, and readers interested in immersing themselves completely in an unforgettable setting will revel in this well-researched, true-to-life adventure." 
—Bulletin of The Center for Children's Books, STARRED Review

"The sheer unusualness of the narrative’s makeup and blend of genres render it interesting. Readers fascinated by the gritty world of organized crime will find much to like here." 
—Booklist 

"Yoking paranormal thriller, roman noir, and historical fiction, Razorhurst teems with precisely realized period details and an expansive cast of unsavory characters, as well as numerous allusions to the film noirs and Sydney history that inspired Larbalestier . . . intensely lucid and sharp."
The Horn Book Magazine

"Vivid and bloody and bold and fast—I feel like Razorhurst is in my bones now."
—#1 New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert
 
"Sure, it is shiny and chilly and bloody and sharp, like the razor of the title, but Larbalestier's book is also magical and glamorous. Everything comes together in a surprising, gory, inevitable ending from one of the smartest writers in YA fiction." 
—E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier is a bloody masterpiece (pun intended)—the kind of book that feels classic and timeless and sharp with characters that live and breathe off the page. In short: wow.”
—Courtney Summers, author of This Is Not a Test and All the Rage

"Razorhurst is magnificent—beautiful prose and good storytelling."
—Amber Benson, author of The Witches Of Echo Park and star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

"A timeless tale of love and violence in long lost Razorhurst with characters I truly cared about."
—Melina Marchetta, author of Jellicoe Road 

"A bloody and evocative novel, written in clean and lively prose."
—The Sydney Morning Herald

Praise for Justine Larbalestier

 
“Has everything it takes to be an instant classic.”
—Cory Doctorow
 
“Loaded with brilliant, witty characters and stacks of invented slang, this is a fun, fresh read as well as a satrical study of society.”
—Sun Herald

 
“A well-paced novel with a masterfully constructed unreliable narrator . . . Readers will be guessing and theorizing long after they've finished this gripping story.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
 
 “In this fierce, hypnotic novel, character, story, and the thrumming forces of magic strike a rare, memorable balance.”
Booklist, Starred Review

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781616955441
Publisher:
Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
03/03/2015
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
734,277
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)
Lexile:
HL590L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Kelpie

Tommy was a talker and didn’t much like the other ghosts, so he was forever talking to Kelpie. That’s how she divided them up: talkers and silent ones. Most ghosts were silent. Most ignored the living. Kelpie thought that was just as well.
      She wished Tommy was a silent one. She wished she hadn’t listened.
      Most ghosts haunted a person or a place. Pimply Tommy had Belmore Lane. He didn’t like the word haunt because it implied he had a choice, but no matter how many times he tried, he could not leave. Tommy had been born in that lane, he had been killed in that lane, and that kept him there for eternity, looking at the backyards of houses and the rear entrances of warehouses and factories, unable to set foot in either.
      It made him cantankerous and tricksy.
      “Barefoot again, eh?” Tommy said, his voice cracking on the word barefoot. “And this the coldest winter in forever.”
      Tommy’s world was so constrained he noticed all the changes. Because he was a ghost, he could see in the dark, and though he could not leave that all-too-small lane, he could hear and smell farther than a human. All ghosts could. Tommy knew everyone’s business.
      “Where your shoes?”
      Kelpie’d taken them off once she was sure Miss Lee had faded. Miss Lee was a ghost too.
      Had been a ghost. She’d looked after Kelpie, which was why Kelpie’d worn shoes—to please her. They pinched Kelpie’s toes, and besides, the soles of her feet were tough as any shoe. Cold didn’t bother her as much as shoes did.
      “Here to see your boyfriend?” Tommy asked. “You do know every girl in the Hills is after that ugly mick, don’t you?”
      Neal Darcy was not ugly, and he was not her boyfriend. Though she was there to see him. She hadn’t once since Miss Lee had gone, and he’d promised he was going to show her how to use his typewriter. Her stomach growled.
      “Hungry, eh? Darcys’ ain’t got no food. Piles of apples in there, though.” Tommy pointed at Mrs. Stone’s boarding house.
      Mrs. Stone’s was not what Miss Lee would have called respectable. It was what Kelpie’s other living friend, Snowy, called dangerous. Hardly a one of the men who lived there didn’t have an L- or an X-shaped razor-etched scar on one side of his face. Hard men, Snowy called them. He’d know. You’d have to be mad to venture in uninvited.
      Or invited, for that matter.
      “I never seen such shiny apples. Reckon they’re for that Gloriana Nelson’s party. Lot of her boys live at Mrs. Stone’s.”
      Kelpie wished her stomach were quiet. She would not listen to Tommy. Miss Lee never had. No one has ever lied as much as that young man, she’d told Kelpie. Just because sometimes he leads you to a meat pie. Well, a stopped clock is right twice a day.
      Kelpie wished Tommy told the truth that often.
      “All you gotta do is climb in the back window. The one off that side.”
      Kelpie couldn’t help looking past Mrs. Stone’s fence, which sagged in the middle like an old horse. The window was open. A tattered curtain fluttering over the sill looked silver in the moonlight.
      “Back door’s always locked. Kitchen’s second door down past the room you’ll climb into. And there’s your apples. Dead shiny, they are.”
      Kelpie knew better than to go in. Apples or no apples.
      She wasn’t even sure she remembered their taste. A bit sharp, a lot sweet. Or was that plums? Hadn’t had one of them since Old Ma was alive. They were softer, juicier. Apples were the hard ones. Like cricket balls. She felt the water enter her mouth.
      “Never seen so many apples,” Tommy said.
      “Why do you want me to eat?” Kelpie asked instead of walking on like she would have if Miss Lee hadn’t faded. “They poison?”
      Tommy grinned.
      If Miss Lee was still here, Kelpie wouldn’t be talking to him. She wouldn’t be hungry either. Miss Lee found food for her and safe places to sleep.
      “She’s gone now, ain’t she? You talking to me again and no shoes. No one’s looking out for you.” He paused and then said, “’S not right.” Almost as if he cared.
      That should’ve been Kelpie’s warning. Tommy didn’t care about anything. If he wanted her to go into Mrs. Stone’s, it weren’t for any good reason.
      Ghosts couldn’t hurt you directly. They couldn’t push you off a cliff, but they could lead you off one, if you were stupid enough to follow.
      But Kelpie was hungry. Hard to think when you’re hungry. She had to scrounge food where she could, because Miss Lee was gone, because Snowy was still in gaol and no one else living looked out for her, because she had no money to pay for food, and because she couldn’t beg. Kids who begged got swept up by Welfare.
      Tommy nodded at Mrs. Stone’s. “Ain’t none of them home. Too early for that lot. And you know Mrs. Stone’s deaf as a post.”
      The sun wasn’t up. For the razor men, the standover men—all of that mob—their working day ended at noon. Didn’t start till after the sun went down.
      “I used to love me some apples.”
      Tommy kept showing teeth. Happy as a pig in shit, Old Ma would have said, with no approval at all.
      “Go on then.” Tommy pointed at the gap in the collapsing grey fence, edged with splinters longer than Kelpie’s thigh. “You’ll fit through easy.” He leaned back, arms folded, all nonchalant like he owned the lane.
      Kelpie was hungry.
      She slipped through the gap, crept past the pile of bricks that was the dunny leaning against the fence. Smelled like the nightsoil men had missed this one. She threaded her way past a broken curved-backed chair and a rusting bicycle without seat or handlebars or wheels. Weeds growing high between paving stones brushed the backs of her calves.
      Kelpie tried the back door, not putting it past Tommy to make her enter through a window when she didn’t have to.
      Locked.
      She stood on her toes to look through the window. The dirty curtain brushed across her nose. An empty bedroom. Narrow unmade bed in the corner. A pile of clothes on top of suitcases and a side table covered with old newspapers, an overfull ashtray, and empty bottles. One was filled with desiccated brown flowers. Kelpie wondered at a razor man having flowers, even dead ones, and then hauled herself over the sill.
      Outside she could hear the clip clop of horse and cart, the clatter of a truck down Foveaux Street, further away raised voices. The house creaked, settling in the wind. The place smelled damp and dank and dusty. She heard no movement inside the house.
      Kelpie peered out the open door. The carpet along the corridor was so worn the floorboards peeked through. Near the front door empty hooks protruded from the wall. On an afternoon, they’d hold hats and coats. Behind her the back door’s bolt was thick and heavy.
      As Kelpie crept along, a board groaned. She stilled. Listened hard.
      Nothing.
      Her skin tightened, as if her body heard something her ears didn’t. Kelpie could slip out the way she came. Go to Paddy’s Markets.
      There was sometimes fallen fruit and vegetables, provided she wasn’t run off before she could lay hands on any of it. These apples were closer.
      Kelpie went up on her toes, making herself lighter. She’d spent so long among ghosts she’d become almost as quiet.
      Something smelled worse than damp. The closer she moved to the kitchen, the worse the smell grew.
      The first door on her left was closed, but the second was open.
      It wasn’t a kitchen. Tommy’d lied.
      It was another bedroom.
      A lady in a fancy blue suit with matching hat was leaning over a dead man on the bed. Her hands were shaking. She held a card. She handed it to Kelpie.
      “Mr. Davidson did it,” she said. “See?”

Razorhurst

Nineteen twenty-eight had been a banner year for blood. Throughout the east of the city—Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Woolloomooloo, Kings Cross, Paddington—blood flowed. Razors cut up faces, sliced off ears, opened up chests and bowels; went in through the eye, the ribs, the throat. They maimed, crippled, and killed.
      Why razors?
      Because they banned handguns at the beginning of the twenties, didn’t they? To keep them out of the hands of the Commies. To stop the much-promised revolution. The one that never came.
      Not that banning guns made them go away, but it did mean if you was caught with one, they could arrest you without you even pulling the trigger. Catch you with a razor, and all you had to do was point to your none-too-smooth cheeks: Was gunna give meself a shave first thing, wasn’t I, constable? A very close shave. That’s why it’s so sharp, see?
      The razor men became artists of the blade. Where was the artistry in squeezing a trigger? In the rough outlines of a bullet wound? Nowhere. Not like the L you could carve on a man’s face.
      You didn’t have to kill your enemies. Just let them know you’d been there and weren’t never going away. That scar lived on a mug’s face for the rest of his life. He would always be marked, broken, less than.
      Or not.
      The hardest razor men had the biggest scars.
      Get cut up like that? And live? Now there was a man.
      Angry Carbone, Snowy Fullerton, Razor Tom, Jimmy Palmer, Bluey Denham. Real men with real scars and real razors.
      Proud inhabitants of Greater Razorhurst. Dubbed so by Truth, a newspaper that never lied, in the bloody year of 1928—when Frog Hollow had only just been torn down, Old Ma was barely dead, and Kelpie was being raised by ghosts. Dymphna Campbell was beginning her first year in her chosen profession, and those gang bosses, Gloriana Nelson and Mr. Davidson, were crawling to the top of the bloody remains of Razorhurst and brokering the peace that still held.
      And could well hold for a while longer on this cold winter morning in 1932.
      Or not . . .

Meet the Author

Justine Larbalestier is the Australian-American author of many novels, including Liar, which received four starred reviews, and My Sister Rosa. Justine lives in Sydney, Australia, and New York City, though not at the same time. You can find her on Twitter @JustineLavaworm andher website, justinelarbalestier.com.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Razorhurst 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
belle7171 More than 1 year ago
I’m not going to recap the plotline of Razorhurst; for that, you can read the synopsis above. However, I did really enjoy the book. It is one of those books that you continue to think about after a reading session and wonder what will be happening to the characters next. I did not understand how reviews claim it is “bloody”. Maybe I’m jaded by too many Stephen King books, but I felt the violence to be pretty benign. I do realize it is being marketed as a “Teen” book, so maybe that explains the disclaimers. I did feel that the ending led itself to a sequel, and I felt that the characters needed more development. The ghost aspect of the story was very interesting, but I felt it could have been expanded (ie. In maybe a sequel). All in all a good book; I would recommend it to my daughter and her friends.