Welcomes to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for Breakers by Doug Johnstone!
Here’s a little info about the book:
Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Whilst trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addicted mother, he’s also coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings.
One night whilst on a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead. And that ’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because they soon discover the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt.
With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in terrible danger, Tyler is running out of options, until he meets posh girl Flick in another stranger ’s house. Could she be his salvation? Or will he end up dragging her down with him?
And about author Doug Johnstone:
Doug Johnstone is an author, journalist and musician based in Edinburgh. He’s had nine novels published, most recently Fault Lines. His previous novel, The Jump, was a finalist for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Several of his other novels have been award winners and bestsellers, and he’s had short stories published in numerous anthologies and literary magazines. His work has been praised by the likes of Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Irvine Welsh. Several of his novels have been optioned for film and television. Doug is also a Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow. He’s worked as an RLF Fellow at Queen Margaret University, taught creative writing at Strathclyde University and William Purves Funeral Directors. He mentors and assesses manuscripts for The Literary Consultancy and regularly tutors at Moniack Mhor writing retreat. Doug has released seven albums in various bands, and is drummer, vocalist and occasional guitarist for the Fun Lovin’ Crime writers, a band of crime writers. He also reviews books for The Big Issue magazine, is player-manager for Scotland Writers Football Club and has a PhD in nuclear physics.
And here’s Paul Burke’s review of Breakers:
This is a bloody good story well told. Tyler, the central character, is a salt of the earth guy. You will warm to him, even come to care about him, and by the end of the novel you’ll be angry and sad at the iniquity and unfairness of life (society?). For me, Breakers is a perfect example of why crime fiction matters, why it’s an important contemporary art form. This novel is relevant, topical and socially aware, it speaks to the problems of modern British society, the kind of things that often manifest in the form of crime. Johnstone has taken a fairly standard premise in Breakers and geared it up (society’s mistakes are like TV movies – constantly on a loop, they just keep coming back). Breakers displays a genuine humanity, it’s a stylishly novel infused with a moral core. You will so want to engage on that level but it’s also a first rate psychological thriller, so it’ll get the heart rate going too!,
Some people live an alternative reality to the comfortable, if challenging, world most of us occupy. They haven’t been invited inside the tent, they don’t live by the same set of rules. This is not so much about rich versus poor as it’s about the included and the excluded. For those who are excluded their contact with “normal” society is tangential, it’s usually when they transgress the rules and then they must be punished for their breaches. Sure, there are bad people out there but mostly the outsiders are just ordinary people trying to get from day to day without access to the tools the insiders get (family stability, education, work, comfortable living etc.). Yet, “normal” society still doesn’t have a decent understanding of poverty and deprivation, of exclusion and isolation. People do well when they believe in the future, when they are included in it. That’s a long-winded way of saying Tyler and his family are of that other reality, he and his little sister are enforced outsiders – there’s the rub!
Scotland is a world leader in police procedurals but also more dynamic crime fiction that realises that the police and neat solutions are not the answer. Breakers is a perfect example of this; the gulf between the these characters and authority here is unbridgeable. So, even if the police were honestly trying to help there is no trust, when Tyler’s life spirals out of control he has nowhere to go – he can only rely on his own smarts. The motives of the police in Breakers are questionable, they are not in the business of rescuing drowning people or throwing in a life line, they want convictions – their actions have collateral consequences.
For Tyler, life is a kind of hand to mouth existence. It’s hard to envisage the future and yet he has taken on the responsibility of looking after his kid sister and trying to give her a start in life despite their circumstances. Tyler has to support his junkie mother and he’s is in thrall to his older half-brother, Barry, who just happens to be having an incestuous relationship with his half-sister, Kelly (there’s a past there). Barry, not to put to fine a point on it, is a nutter – or someone who needs serious psychological help. Tyler is part of Barry’s gang of three with Kelly, they break into houses. Life is just full of those moments where bad decisions have irreparable consequences. And Tyler becomes accountable for Barry’s actions too, it’s not fair but it is life. Barry, Tyler and Kelly rob, they’re breakers, but they’re about to rob the wrong house and Barry is about to do the dumbest thing he ever did – Tyler is going to have to live with that.
Away from the trend to call all crime ‘noir’ this is the real deal. One of those features of Breakers that make this a genuine noir is that moment of madness that takes over the characters’ lives, the loss of control, before he knows what is happening Tyler is neck deep in trouble.
Johnstone ranks up there with Irvine Welsh at a chronicler of modern Edinburgh life. This feels like it really comes from the estates and communities of the city. Breakers opens a window on a side to the city that will surprise you, even if you think you are familiar with its streets and people. Sometimes you just don’t appreciate how lucky you are, that is until you see how the other half lives. Tyler has had no kind of start in life and yet he’s resourceful and caring, he faces up to the responsibility of looking after his family but he is also a thief, a house breaker and a grifter.
Tyler Wallace is seventeen, he’s putting his little sister to bed because his mother is in no fit state to do it, she hasn’t been for years. They have a squat and Tyler looks after them both. That means doing what his half-brother Barry says. Tyler, Barry and Kelly are as dysfunctional a team as they are as a family. They prowl the rich parts of town: Mayfield, Newington, Marchmont Grange, Merchiston, and Morningside for vulnerable properties. Kelly and Barry take coke, Tyler won’t because of his mum. They pick a house and bust in, it’s a good start: jewellery, money, Temazapam and some electrical stuff. Barry is a bully and he’s losing it, getting more outrageous. The next house is a treasure trove: top of the line watches, jewellery, Xbox, 6 brand new iPhones still in their box (?) and a wedge of cash. There’s a sawed-off shotgun under the bed in one room. Tyler hears a car pull up, a woman gets out, he goes down stairs, the women is shouting, Barry charges and stabs her. They leave with the stuff taking her Audi too. Tyler has her phone and, when Barry isn’t looking, he calls an ambulance for the woman, hoping she isn’t already dead. The woman survives, she’s Monika Holt, wife of Deke Holt, one of the titans of the Edinburgh underworld. Detective Inspector Gail Pearce figures it’s Barry’s gang but Tyler isn’t talking. He meets Flick, Felicity, from Loretto, the posh school in Musselburgh. Now Tyler, Flick, and his mother and sister are in danger from both Deke Holt and Barry.
Breakers is a taut, gritty tale. I was on side with young Tyler even though he’s a house breaker – how else is a seventeen year old supposed to keep his mother and sister fed, schooled and housed if no one cares? Breakers is social commentary, it’s about poverty, lack of opportunity, gentrification, the changing city, lost communities, bullying and even incest.
This novel puts the psychological thriller right where it should be at the heart of contemporary society, dealing with the politics and economics of real life. This is not one of those stories full of champagne swilling, designer wearing characters subjected to ludicrous twist upon twist. More like this please.
Paul Burke 5/4
Breakers by Doug Johnstone
Orenda Books 9781912374670 pbk May 2019