Before Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier, I only knew about the history of Sydney’s razor gang wars in the 1920s-30s from a TV series called Underbelly: Razor. I liked the show and was interested in gang queens Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh who were rivals, so I decided to read Razorhurst, a fictionalised account of 1930s Razorhurst (a nickname for Darlinghurst and surburbs relating to Sydney’s underworld) and the real events and people including Devine and Leigh served as inspirations for the book’s plot and characters.
Razorhurst follows Kelpie, a young girl on the streets who can see ghosts, even talk to them. She crosses paths with Dymphna, a prostitute caught in a conspiracy, and the two are on the run from Razorhurst’s two powerful rival gangs – one led by Mr. Davidson and the other by Dymphna’s boss Gloriana “Glory”. A power struggle ensues, leading to bloodbaths. Kelpie must stay with Dymphna to survive…
Razorhurst is a brilliant read with witty dialogue (I found myself laughing despite the violence) and careful research. It has inspired me to read more Aussie fiction (maybe not all Aussie books are dry). One thing I have to criticise is the ghosts. I wish they had more of a role to play rather just making commentary on the sidelines or in the background, though I liked that Kelpie was bothered by them and tried to find a way to escape them.
This book would leave you haunted…but also make you want to excavate Sydney.