Review of ‘The Take’ by Martina Cole

Cole is often referred to as one of the front-runners when it comes to Crime Fiction, but even as someone who largely only reads Crime novels, I have only read one of her novels so far. But having heard ‘The Take’ praised so highly, I felt it was about time I tackle my second Cole novel.

As expected, ‘The Take’ was gritty, to an uncomfortable level at times. The events of the plot enraged me, certain characters made me want to scream. But that, in my opinion, is just testament to the great skill Cole has in drawing us into her dark, seedy and dangerous stories.

The novel is, as many of Cole’s are, extremely long, and I did find myself skimming large sections. I tend to find that long novels run the risk of repeating themselves, and in many places ‘The Take’ does just that. After the sixth section from Jackie’s point of view, using the same insults to put Maggie down and pick herself up, the same thoughts about her relationship with Freddie, the same references the her jealousy, I did find myself rolling my eyes.

But, I did enjoy that the book took us across a number of years. We really get to see the development of an entire underworld. It also meant that we really got to see how Maggie responds to the trauma in her life. I was incredibly concerned that Cole was going to show Maggie to crumble after her attack and never get back to normal. So I was thrilled, that the novel’s length allowed for scope to really show Maggie’s recovery, and to assure readers that, it does get better, you can get better, and that trauma does not have to ruin your entire life. Seeing Maggie come through her trauma and her subsequent depression was a relief as it is an aspect of life that is often missing from such stories.

Maggie was possibly one of the most rounded, strong female characters I have read for a long time, so I was hugely relieved that wasn’t portrayed solely as a weak, damaged female following her attack. Even Jackie could not be described as a flat character, though her alcoholism was maybe not as well portrayed as say, Rachel’s in ‘The Girl on the Train’, Cole does an extremely good job of drawing us in to Jackie’s mental struggle.

My main problem with Cole is not her storytelling ability, nor her character development. No. My problem with Cole, has always been, her poor dialogue. Cole has a terrible habit of altering her characters speech in a way that feels awfully stilted and prevents the story from really flowing as it should. Despite setting her plots in London’s underbelly and using gangsters, drug dealers and other low standing criminals, Cole has the horrendous habit of not abbreviating words. She repeatedly has her characters use phrases like ‘I am’, ‘You are’ ‘They are’ and this stops her dialogue from being easily readable and, sadly, believable. Just as an argument is really heating up, as we’re really feeling the tension, one of her rough and ready characters uses one of those hideous phrases and the dialogue suddenly reads stilted, and unrealistic.

If only Cole could get her dialogue right, and could balance her long narrative timeline with fresh pieces of action and cut our some of the repetition, I might have said this was indeed one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read. Sadly though, it fell just short of that expectation.

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