Needless Alley

Natalie Marlow

Shortlisted for the CrimeFest Debut Crime Novel Award 2024

An FT Best Summer Thriller 2023

Birmingham, 1933.

Private enquiry agent William Garrett, a man damaged by a dark childhood spent on Birmingham’s canals, specialises in facilitating divorces for the city’s male elite. With the help of his best friend – charming, out-of-work actor Ronnie Edgerton – William sets up honey traps. But photographing unsuspecting women in flagrante plagues his conscience and William heaves up his guts with remorse after every job.

However, William’s life changes when he accidentally meets the beautiful Clara Morton and falls in love. Little does he know she is the wife of a client – a leading fascist with a dangerous obsession. And what should have been another straightforward job turns into something far more deadly.

Media Reviews

A fine writer with a great sense of period and place who creates an atmosphere of mounting menace and dread. A more than promising debut – The Times

Conjures up a backdrop so vivid you can taste the smoke in the air . . . one of those books that runs like a movie in your head and leaves greasy fingerprints all over your memory – Val McDermid, author of 1989

Marlow’s very engaging protagonist may herald the birth of a new genre: Midlands Noir – Financial Times

Transplanting the hardboiled Hollywood noir of the 1940s to the backstreets of 1933 Birmingham, [Needless Alley] has all the seamy glitter and cynical grime of the genre – Daily Mail

Marlow has a nicely theatrical way with a scene, and her witty prose has texture and heft. The city is atmospherically rendered, the narrative has an almost hallucinatory quality and Garrett is an engaging leading man. Needless Alley is an exceptionally well-written first novel that whets the appetite for many sequels – Irish Times

From its claustrophobic descriptions of Birmingham’s darker corners to revelations of the seedier proclivities of the rich and powerful, Needless Alley offers a gripping portrait of 1930s England, a country where Blackshirts and fascism have entered the national psyche. William Garrett – dour, dark, and damaged – is a man of principle in an unprincipled vocation. A meditative and wonderfully written historical crime debut – Vaseem Khan, author of THE LOST MAN OF BOMBAY

A gripping debut . . . Garrett may play hard-boiled but, in the best tradition of private detectives, there is a quixotic romanticism lurking under the cynical and dishevelled exterior – Irish Independent

This is pulp fiction of the highest quality, marking the arrival of a fabulous new thriller writer – Matthew d’Ancona, Tortoise

An atmospheric, hardboiled thriller with a hint of Peaky Blinders about it – Sun

Marlow’s stylish debut is an elegant homage to classic pulp fiction, steeped in dark and seedy glamour – Daily Mail

Needless Alley by Natalie Marlow is something special . . . [A] superbly written debut – Morning Star

Needless Alley is well plotted, lively and builds a great cast of characters for future mysteries – Bookseller

Crafted with all the style and elegance of classic hardboiled fiction, lovingly splashed in the grubbiness and grime of interwar Birmingham’s cuts, alleys and back streets. A smart, ripping yarn, whose compelling hero is movingly supported by a cast of lived in characters, and put through the wringer by some shocking and moving revelations. Sensational start to a new series – Dominic Nolan, author of VINE STREET

Deftly plotted, beautifully written, Needless Alley is a delicious slice of Chandleresque Midlands noir. Marlow’s pellucid prose shines a brilliant light on 1930s Birmingham and the lives and loves of the exquisitely drawn characters that populate its mean streets and waterways. I loved this book and I can’t wait to read more – Mark Wightman, author of WAKING THE TIGER

A Chandleresque hard-boiled detective novel with an atmospheric, horrifying feel all of its own. Tightly plotted and beautifully written, a world of Blackshirts and misogyny with a flawed, human detective who I took straight to my heart – Harriet Tyce, author of BLOOD ORANGE

Needless Alley not only evokes 1930s Birmingham in all its dark glory – it introduces characters that are impossible to forget. Read it – Alan Parks, author of BLOODY JANUARY

Marlow beautifully distils 1930s Birmingham into a seamy world of moral corruption: anyone can fall and few are left clean. Gripping, confident and atmospheric – Kate Mascarenhas, author of HOKEY POKEY

A terrific debut. It’s not often that historical fiction gets this down and dirty, but Natalie Marlow has delivered dark and twisted in spades. I urge you to take a stroll down Needless Alley, but you might want to watch your back as you do . . . – Trevor Wood, author of DEAD END STREET

Needless Alley, Marlow’s debut is crime fiction gold. Every word is crafted with care; every plot twist is elegantly presented. And at the heart of it all is a heinous crime that begs to be solved by a hero as full of heart as he is driven. I love everything about this book – Femi Kayode, author of LIGHTSEEKERS

Needless Alley is great – dark, gritty and full of unexpected twists and turns – Frances Quinn, author of THAT BONESETTER WOMAN

1930s Birmingham is brought expertly to life in this atmospheric crime noir where corruption and seedy entanglements lurk down every darkly lit street. Compelling and clever, Needless Alley makes for a gripping read that any Peaky Blinders fan is sure to love – Susan Stokes-Chapman, author of PANDORA

Down these mean Brummie streets a man must go . . . and on the strength of Natalie Marlow’s cracking debut, I’ll be following. An elegantly written, meticulously researched 1930s noir thriller, with a twisting, turning plot and vivid characters both utterly of their time and powerfully resonant of our own – Robbie Morrison, author of EDGE OF THE GRAVE

Needless Alley is a great murder mystery, rich in character and detail and darker than a Black Country canal at midnight – Peter Hanington, author of A CURSED PLACE

As with every atmospheric mystery, it’s all about the lighting, and Natalie Marlow illuminates the hard-boiled players in this thrilling debut with all the dexterity of any of our great noir novelists. You will wince, you will gasp, you will shudder at every turn, and you will want to keep reading until that last light dims at the disquieting end – J.M. Varese, author of THE SPIRIT PHOTOGRAPHER and THE COMPANY

More From This Author