—#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.
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
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?”
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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 . . .
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.