Keeping the House by Tice Cin is a tale of heroin, torture and domesticity that breaks free from post-Trainspotting drug-novel stereotypes – Laura Waddell

My book of the week is the novel Keeping the House by Tice Cin, a tale of cabbages and small-time drug kings.
An innocent crate of cabbages or a consignment of illegal narcotics? (Picture: Scott Olson/Getty Images)An innocent crate of cabbages or a consignment of illegal narcotics? (Picture: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
An innocent crate of cabbages or a consignment of illegal narcotics? (Picture: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

They’ve hit on a scheme to supply heroin into the UK through the delivery of fresh produce. The idea is inspired: when baggies of the stuff are placed inside the budding vegetables at just the right moment of their growth, the tough outer leaves grow around them. Parcelled up tight, to anyone peering in quickly at customs, the secretive vegetables look like any ordinary cabbage.

That’s all relatively straightforward. The real drama centres around the family dynamics of characters from London’s Turkish-Cypriot community. There is the mother, needing to make money, who takes on her incarcerated husband’s business, because what else is she meant to do?

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There is an unassuming-looking, big-time enforcer who, when not torturing the disloyal and the screw-ups, loves watching birds out the window while his cat dozes on his lap.

There are young folk in various states of awareness as to what’s going on around them. At times, jumping between the many perspectives, I got lost among the spread of characters but always enjoyed eavesdropping on whatever they were up to.

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The drugs trade, however grim in real life, makes a great subject for a novelist: after all, money, vice, and family are an easily combustible combination. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, the blockbuster heroin novel of the 90s, left a legacy that bogs down lesser writers, who still to this day produce screeds of wan knock-offs that fetishise the macho, aggro lifestyle with neither quick enough humour nor the emotional depth needed to really round their stories out.

Keeping the House, with its multi-lingual, lyrical perspective, segues between lively, on-the-job banter and quieter domestic notes. Crucially, this drug novel is interested in how young women are treated in their environment, and in the full human potential of well-coiffed, busy working mothers to partake in organised criminality.

Tice Cin is a fine stylist. Rather than yet another echo of 90s Edinburgh, Keeping the House breaks free from drug-novel stereotypes to paint a fresh, fun and vivid picture of drug-dealing in today's Tottenham.

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