From Warninks liqueur to workplace sexism, the novel is awash with period markers both solemn and light-hearted; at one point Hannah’s boyfriend uses his Access card to chop out a line of cocaine. But as well as taking a trip down memory lane, Quinn wants to explore how Labour voters were blindsided by Thatcher’s rise; he seems here to have the complacency of 21st-century echo chambers in mind as much as the dogma of the past. Hannah doesn’t peg her man for a Tory voter: “He was considerate and funny and well dressed, he didn’t patronise women as far as she could tell – and he loved Joni Mitchell.”
London, Burning has enough material for a novel twice as long, and you sense Quinn’s consummate courtesy as a writer might extend to needless worry about outstaying his welcome. But the loose ends hint that he may be writing a sequel even as we speak: roll on the 80s.
Quinn lights a long fuse and stands well back. The story’s two bomb explosions, the first killing the shadow home secretary — a fairly colourless rendition of Airey Neave, mysteriously disguised as ‘Middleton’, which was Neave’s second name — are every bit as exciting and climactic as they should be. The loud thunderclap of one bomb going off made me shudder at the memory of an IRA explosion which I witnessed at close quarters and which came close to killing me.
Quinn, a former film critic, is busy stirring up a period mood: from the ever-present adverts (for Kit-Kats, wallpaper, “Labour isn’t working”) to the disdain for working women (another officer suggests that Vicky could dress better). At times Quinn goes overboard – like a dissection of The Deer Hunter stretching over several pages, or when Hannah tells Callum, “I don’t think I’ve heard anything like Wuthering Heights – ever”. The debates about politics (whether unions are “throttling the life out of this country” or “a force for change”) and Ireland feel binary. Perhaps that’s the point: in London, Burning, Quinn conjures an atmosphere of suspicion and exasperation, one in which everyone’s spoiling for a fight.