Source: Review copy
Publication: 16th May from Orenda Books
A toxic family … a fight for survival…
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.
With Breakers Doug Johnstone took my heart and slowly, carefully and with great precision took bite sized chunks out of it until little was left. Breakers is a book in which every word matters; where the precision of the writing evokes a mental picture that is so strong you feel as if you are beside these characters; living their fear, chancing their luck, smelling their desperation.
Strong, visceral, rooted in an all too grim reality, Johnstone shows us just what life is like when an absence of care and a lack of money combine to be the strongest forces in the life of a child. This is writing that soars above the crowd; writing that engages the brain and touches the heart. Writing that makes you want to cheer when a young man commits an act so terrible it will mark him for ever.
This dialogue is sharp and crisp, his images so clear that sometimes I wished I could cloud them over.
Johnstone pulls no punches. He makes us angry, uncomfortable, seeks out those raw spots and prods at them, all the while silently asking us what we are doing to make things different. These are our people who are on the doorstep, who pass us every day, who make us lock our doors and set our alarms in the illusion that this will make us safe.
His savage pictures show us a reality we want to ignore, but which rings out loud and clear with startling veracity.
His characters are caught in a vicious circle, a product of their environment, though he clearly makes the point that nurture is as important as means. By finding common ground between Tyler and Flick he bridges the class divide to find a pair of young minds that recognise a mutual rawness and a need in each which the other can meet.
I’m going to be thinking about this book for a long time as I try and mend the heart that Johnstone has shattered into pieces.
Verdict: Brutal, beautiful and ultimately hopeful, I expect Breakers to be the best thing I will read this year.
Doug Johnstone is an author, journalist and musician based in Edinburgh. He’s had eight 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 the drummer 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.