The Outer Circle – a tale of our times


IAN RIDLEY’S THE OUTER CIRCLE opens on a swelteringly hot day in August 2012, just after the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. The capital is euphoric, the city basking in ‘sunshine and pride’, ‘at peace and ease with itself’ after the glory of the Games. Tolerance is the name of the day and at the London Central Mosque in beautiful Regents Park, thousands are gathering for a family fun day to take advantage of the beautiful weather, souks, food and even a bouncy castle.

Security is tight, yet everyone, it seems, has relaxed their guard, relishing the unity of the moment. Thus, it’s all the more shocking when this mood is pierced by the screams of the people involved in a horrific attack inside the Mosque. The Outer Circle focuses on five characters caught up in the action, and its effect on their lives in the four days immediately following it.

Although we see events through the eyes of Rashid, Tom, Deena and Jan, to all intents and purposes Saul is the main protagonist. He opens the book, setting the scene beautifully with the meticulous eye of the editor that he is, as he makes his way from his flat in Primrose Hill, via the Park, to receive radiation therapy for prostate cancer. In the Park, he first encounters Tom, a young man, alone and in some distress in London, dealing with his own personal demons and conflicted family loyalties. Deena is an inexperienced PC called to the scene in the event’s aftermath, Jan a journalist, hanging onto her career by a thread, and Rashid, a former Jew and convert to Islam, who witnesses the tragedy firsthand. All of these characters are affected in seemingly unexpected ways by the events of that day.

A journalist and author of several non-fiction titles, Ridley sets the scene of post-Olympics London well in this, his first novel. It’s a city delighted with itself, metaphorically patting itself on the back for how unified it appears, but beneath that mask, the conflicts bubble away. An almost unbearable heatwave in a city that doesn’t do heat well exacerbates the tension and hatred that quickly surfaces after the brutal attack on the Mosque occurs.

For me, a Londoner born and bred, who grew up in the shadow of the IRA reign of terror and the day-to-day threat of the National Front and other extremist groups, or for anyone who has lived through any of the recent terrorist attacks either in the city or elsewhere, Ridley’s attention to detail, and the emotions and thoughts experienced by the characters appear authentic, the sense of disquiet evoked uncomfortably familiar. Regretfully we live in a world in which going about our daily business, walking along a pavement to go to the shops or crossing a road to meet a friend, the world can simply turn on its head in the blink of an eye and anything can happen to any of us, at any time, with absolutely no warning – and that’s the true nature of terrorism.

I was thinking about how to class The Outer Circle. It’s certainly not a classic crime or suspense novel or thriller, even. Perhaps it’s more a study of human behaviour, an acute observation of how people – and also a city – react in extreme circumstances. Certainly, you can’t get more topical than that.


The Outer Circle by Ian Ridley • January 2018 • Unbound • Paperback • £10.99

See Q&A with Ian Ridley


Acknowledgements: This review is published as part of The Outer Circle book blog tour. Thanks to Anne Cater and the publisher, Unbound, for supplying a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are our own. Quoted text © Ian Ridley 2017. Image London reimagined on a bookshelf (aka You’ve gotta love toy cars) © The Literary Shed 2018.


Also of interest:Finlay’s last stand – Matt Johnson’s End Game‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry‘; ‘Mallory an old-style hero – It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell’; ‘The long road – John Fairfax’s Summary Justice‘; ‘Nora Roberts’ Come Sundown – a tale of strong women‘; How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original Penguin Ten‘; ‘Book covers we love – Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday‘.


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