Today it is my great pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for Breakers by Doug Johnstone. A huge thank you to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to join in, and to publisher Orenda Books for sending me an early review copy of the book. Before I tell you what I think, here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
A toxic family … a fight for survival…Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Playstore | iBooks
Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings, he’s also trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addict mum.
On a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead, but that’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because 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 devastating danger, Tyler meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house, and he thinks she may just be his salvation … unless he drags her down too.
A pulsatingly tense psychological thriller, Breakers is also a breathtakingly brutal, beautiful and deeply moving story of a good kid in the wrong family, from one of Scotland’s finest crime writers.
Sometimes you come across a book that when you read it you are not just seeing words and sentences, you are absorbing them. You are feeling them, experiencing a kind of visceral reaction to what is being laid out in front of you. It’s safe to say that Breakers, the latest offering from Doug Johnstone, is one of those books. This is more than just a story or a moralistic tale of the divide between the affluent and the impoverished residents of Edinburgh. This is a story of survival, of love and of strength which stays with you long after you’ve turned that last page.
Breakers is the story of Tyler, one of Edinburgh’s forgotten children. Living with a mother who is crippled by addiction, and fighting to ensure that his younger sister, Bean, stays safe, he is forced into a life of crime by his older half-siblings. It is a strange scenario that you are faced with as a reader, as Tyler joins his siblings in breaking into people’s houses, robbing them of the possessions they have worked so hard for. You shouldn’t feel any kind of sympathy for Tyler really – he is ultimately a thief – but Doug Johnstone manages to break down the walls which divide the readers sense of right and wrong very quickly, and right from the start of the book I felt a kind of empathy for Tyler, got a real sense of the kind of young man he was trying to become, in spite of the influence of those around him.
Now it’s safe to say that something goes horribly wrong very early on in the book, a simple B&E job turning violent and putting Tyler and his family in grave danger. Not only are they left trying to evade detection by the police, but also by the family of the home they broke into, a family who wield a lot of power on Edinburgh’s streets and who are hell bent on revenge. It adds a real sense of threat to an already emotionally turbulent read and kept both the characters, and me as reader/voyeur, on edge from start to finish.
But far from simply being a tale about gangland retribution – hunter v hunted – this book takes a look at the relationships within Tyler’s life. There is the strained kinship with his siblings, older brother Barry and their sister, Kelly. Barry and Kelly’s relationship is twisted, scarred, repulsive even, making it very hard to read about, but not so much that it turns you off completely. The way in which Barry treats his family is shocking, but believable, his bullying ways symptomatic of the way in which he was raised. Barry is the exact opposite of Tyler, using threats and violence to coerce and control those around him. Kelly is weaker and held in Barry’s thrall. Whilst I hated Barry from the start, I had mixed reactions about Kelly, part sympathy, part disgust although I felt no strong emotions about what befell either of them.
Tyler however – he’s an entirely different matter. I liked Tyler, felt a real sympathy for him And his situation and an overwhelming desire to see him come good. In spite of his background, he was a strong and caring young man who would do anything for those he loved, especially his sister, Bean. Seeing how he looked out for her would melt even the hardest heart. Even his consideration for his mother, in spite of her flaws, showed how he had the potential to be more than his circumstances would dictate. And then there is his relationship with Flick, a girl from the other side of the city, their lives poles apart, and yet in spirit they are the same. They make an unlikely but welcome pair, blurring the lines which separate them due to class and prejudice.
Yes – on the surface, this is a book which forces readers to look beyond the gloss and the picture perfect views of Edinburgh that the tourist sees when they make their way up the Royal Mile. It makes you realise that just a few miles away from the overpriced lattes and tourist tat shops lies a whole community that is fighting to keep their place in a city which is becoming increasingly expensive to live in or even visit. That a single turn of a corner can take you from skid row to millionaires row, from fighting to survive to living the life of luxury. Doug Johnstone has painted both worlds so vividly, the narrative so effective, that you feel as though you are the heart of the action yourself, seeing what Tyler sees, feeling all that Tyler feels.
But it is more than this too. It is a story of survival. Of fighting for family, and of how far a young man, barely more than a child himself, will go to protect the ones he loves. Pulled from all sides, Tyler showed immense strength and he is a character it is going to take a while to forget. An emotionally charged, beautifully written and evocative book. Most definitely recommended.
About the Author
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.
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