There’s a decidedly Scottish flavour to this month’s book reviews. What with both the Way of The Flesh, by Ambrose Parry , being reviewed at the start of the month and this, our second book review, which is also set in Edinburgh. But for the fact that there’s a a decade or two in the intervening time period, both deal with the underworld of this great city. Whereas Parry’s book is set in the world of unorthodox, sometimes unproven techniques and quackery in the development of anaesthesia and midwifery; this book is set around the seedy world of larceny. It’s Breakers by Doug Johnstone, published by Orenda books (www.orendabooks.co.uk ) on the 16th May.
The Wallaces are a dysfunctional Edinburgh family. Angela, the mum, is a drug and alcohol addict, who can barely take care of herself let alone her four kids. There’s Barry and Kelly the eldest two, then their half siblings 17-year-old Tyler and last of all the baby of the brood, Bethany or Bean. Barry thinks he’s a hard man who does drugs and is in an incestuous relationship with Kelly, but is also a professional house breaker alongside his sister and half-brother, who he bullies into assisting him.
Tyler is the square peg is this family, who tries his best to shelter Bean from the reality of her family life. One night while on a job, the three older siblings get disturbed by Monica Holt the wife of the home’s owner. In his drug induced high, Barry stabs her in the neck leaving her for dead on the sitting room floor. But as he’s leaving Tyler takes Monica’s phone out of her hand and calls an ambulance, without Barry or Kelly knowing. The whole family are in jeopardy now as Monica is the wife of Deke Holt, one of the leading gangsters in the city. To add to Tyler’s problems, a couple of days later while doing a bit of B&E on the side, he bumps into Flick, a posh tearaway schoolgirl, with whom he starts up an unlikely relationship. Can Tyler keep Bean and Flick safe from Barry as well as himself out of the clutches of the Holt’s and the local police.
The book is quite a small read, although most of Doug Johnstone’s books are short, this one is only 230 pages. Most of his previous books rarely hit 300 pages, which makes them ideal book club reads, but also a one sitting read candidate too. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good thick book, but short well rounded books are always welcome. The problem is some of the longer tomes can lag a bit in the middle and this is something you won’t find with Johnstone’s books.
The story is compelling and at times rather close to the bone. So much so that Johnstone even had me fearing for the safety of a stray bitch and her puppies, who are being cared for by Tyler and Bean, unbeknownst to Barry, in a derelict house a short distance from their own lofty perch, which is at the top of one of the few remaining high rises in the city. Although at some point you get to thinking the dog’s home is a damn sight better than the squalid flat Tyler and Bean share with their mother. Who, owing to her addictions, leaves it both covered in and smelling of, bodily fluids.
The stark reality of the Wallace’s lifestyle is brought into focus when compared to Flick’s pampered existence. She’s boarding at a fee paying all- girls school, with access to her parent’s house and zips around the city in a sporty hot hatch.
As for the other characters, Barry is the expertly depicted in his role as the wannabee gangland kingpin, but like most of the real life pretenders to the gangland thrones, who unlike their older predecessors, such as Deke Holt, haven’t learned to respect the products they deal in and thus have no will power when they fancy indulging in some of it. Thus they end up “Riding Dirty”as is the correct term for driving under the influence of drugs and tooled up. Leaving them being totally out of control.
Kelly just drifts along in every one’s shadow, especially Barry’s as he regularly takes advantage of her and thus in the grand scheme of things she’s a plot device. Tyler is the main hero and Bean is the real thief among the lot of them, taking the readers emotions and holding them over a literary cliff edge, while also being the motivation for Tyler’s ability to stand up to Barry when it comes to it.
This Is Scottish Author Doug Johnstones (www.dougjohnstone.com ) tenth book, his others include Tombstoning (2006), The Ossians (2008), Hit and Run (2012), Smokeheads (2011), Gone Again (2013), Dead Beat (2014), The Jump (2015), Crash Land (2016) and Faultlines (2018). He is a Journalist and Musician, with a Degree in Nuclear Physics and has won numerous awards for his previous works. He has received acclaim from fellow crime writers including Ian Rankin, Val McDermaid and Irvine Welsh. While several of his books have been optioned for film and television. He lives in Edinburgh.
There’s something about this book, maybe its Johnstone’s simple but gritty Scottish narrative, which delivers a strong storyline outside of the usual crime ridden locations like London, New York or LA. Maybe it’s the Scottish accent it’s self, ever since the late Mark McManus uttered those immortal words “There’s been a Mudda”, people have yearned for an engrossing Scottish writer whose stories and characters are unflinchingly raw and real. So, download a copy or pop into your local bookshop and start reading this or any of Johnstone’s previous books.
Reviewed by : Adrian Murphy
This book is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback once you’ve read it and tell us what you think. We’d love the feed back.