Vinda, short for Vindaloo, is a twentysomething part-time dominatrix who lives with her Sri Lankan uncle and aunt, Aloy and Agnes. Her only client is the pale, flabby, masochistic Derek, a successful Lincoln's Inn lawyer who gets off on the crack of her whip, her stiletto heels digging into his forehead and the sight of the mottled flesh of her buttocks beneath fishnet tights. Vinda's real name is Asma but she long ago adopted the moniker of the curry after being told by a classmate shag, Ryan, that she was "hotter than a vindaloo".
Angel, Vinda's cousin, is a talented Elvis impersonator who is convinced he has been chosen by the King himself. He has just returned to London from Los Angeles after a long absence to live with Vinda and his parents. In LA he was a door-to-door salesman by day and did Elvis gigs at night. At the Santa Evangelista Church, he became the star turn with powerful renditions of hymns and raunchy Elvis numbers. Word got around and both the congregation and coffers swelled, making the church rich with donations; donations which Angel regarded as his personal appearance fee.
When Derek the masochist turns sadistic on Vinda, she plots her revenge. When Angel robs the church of its new fortune, a bounty hunter is sent after him. Other characters flit in and out of the novel such as Amrik, Vinda's gay friend who picks up rent boys; Regis, the African-American bounty hunter who flies to London to capture Angel but falls into a depression which has him tramping the streets, and Carla, the Italian woman who sleeps with Angel.
S & M, prostitution, fetish clubs, drugs, homosexuality, Elvis impersonators, bounty hunters - all the ingredients are there for an audacious debut novel which rises above the predictable. Pinto often uses heightened, poetic language to flesh out the psyche of her various damaged characters, which also raises the novel above the prosaic. While the writing is not quite that of a page-turning thriller, there is plenty of suspense and style, if not the substance to match it at times. Nor is the plot always credible: would a woman who has been raped one night really want to watch porn films the next with her pervy Uncle Aloy "for a laugh" - an uncle who has been persistently trying to grope her since she was a child?
Vinda, the graduate drifter, seems to wander aimlessly through much of the novel, visiting galleries, half-heartedly searching for work, until she fixates on the revenge of her rapist and becomes focused. However, the tragi-comic figure of Angel proves the meatier role, a more psychologically complex and interesting character who, as the novel progresses, disintegrates from your run-of-the-mill Elvis impersonator with mildly obsessive tendencies into a full-blown madness.
Bernardine Evaristo's latest novel, 'Soul Tourists', is published by Penguin (£7.99)Reuse content