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.
Well now. What do we have here?
A Scottish family drama? A taut crime story? Boy-meets-girl from the other side of the tracks blossoming romance? Puppies?
Check, check, check and yes, check. But take those simple ingredients and put them in the hands of Doug Johnstone and what you end up with is something truly special. If Michelin did stars for books, then Breakers would be wearing its star bright and proud.
Johnstone does characters and place exceptionally well, as evidenced in his previous book, Fault Lines. But here, his starkly contrasting aspects of Edinburgh are done so well. I love a book with a sense of place, and Breakers leaves you feeling that you could walk its streets (though you might want to avoid the estate that Tyler lives on) from the descriptions on the page.
The story bounces around Edinburgh, from the rough estates where Tyler and his family live to the more well-to-do suburbs where they go on the prowl for houses to break into.
Which is where Barry does something spectacularly stupid, even for him. And crime lord Deke Holt is on the hunt. It’s not going to end well…
And the characters! Tyler, young carer to his drug-addict mum and devoted older brother to his little sister Bean, forced into an impossible situation by his thuggish brother Barry. Forced to make some hard choices to survive, and to protect his beloved Bean.
Short, sharp and decidedly not sweet, Breakers is one of those books that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Hugely recommended.
Breakers by Doug Johnstone is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Thanks as ever to Karen Sullivan for the copy of Doug’s book to review.