Source: Review copy
Publication: 16th May 2019 from Headline
Children are dying on London’s streets. Frankie Reece, stabbed through the heart, outside a corner shop. Others recruited from care homes, picked up and exploited; passed like gifts between gangs. They are London’s lost.
Then Raphaela Belsham is killed. She’s thirteen years old, her father is a man of influence, from a smart part of town. And she’s white. Suddenly, the establishment is taking notice.
DS Noah Jake is determined to handle Raphaela’s case and Frankie’s too. But he’s facing his own turmoil, and it’s becoming an obsession. DI Marnie Rome is worried, and she needs Noah on side. Because more children are disappearing, more are being killed by the day and the swelling tide of violence needs to be stemmed before it’s too late.
NEVER BE BROKEN is a stunning, intelligent and gripping novel which explores how the act of witness alters us, and reveals what lies beneath the veneer of a glittering city.
Happy publication day to Sarah Hilary for Never Be Broken, her 6th book in the hugely successful Marnie Rome series. I genuinely think Sarah Hilary is one of the best contemporary crime writers around. Intelligent, and compassionate. she is a thoughtful and always fascinating author.
So to Never Be Broken, which feels like the culmination of a six year story involving Marnie and her step brother, Stephen. More of that later, because first I want to focus on the main plotline.
It’s really not possible to read one of Sarah Hilary’s books without being inextricably drawn into the political and socio-economic aspects of policing in London.
Hilary never flinches from taking social and political themes that have immediate relevance in our contemporary lives. In Never Be Broken Noah Jake has centre stage. Shocked, guilt stricken and grieving after the death of his brother, Sol, he has thrown himself into work, but his mind is still partially elsewhere as he confronts the teenage victims of crime that are the focus of this novel.
It is an all too deadly occurrence these days; children dying from the results of knife crime on the streets of our capital city. Used as drug mules, lookouts and even for sex trafficking, have we really reached the stage as a society that we can listen to reports of children dying from the results of crime on our streets and still think we live in a civilised society? If so,is it because these children are predominantly poor and of multi-ethnic heritage?
In Never Be Broken 13 year old ‘Raffa’ Belsham from Muswell Hill is shot dead in a drive-by killing. It is one of a number of killings that Marnie’s team are investigating, alongside that of Frankie Reece, stabbed outside a corner shop.
Raffa’s killing is different only insofar as she is white and from a ‘good’ area of the city. Her family are well spoken and well-connected and they are adamant that there is no way that Raffa’s death could have anything to do with the notorious Erskine Tower block where other supposed gang related child killings have occurred.
Noah finds it difficult to come to terms with the death of these children and feeling it ever more keenly because of Sol, he wants to ensure that he can bring the killers to justice.
This is all strong stuff as Hilary explores gang life, intimidation, societal breakdown and fragmented communities. Doing so in the context of Noah’s loss makes a deeply personal story resonate with a larger beat across these killings.
Hilary takes an everyday – and just listen to these words – *an every day* story about knife crime and child gang killings and shows us what it is to undergo mental anguish and to suffer the loss of a child. Still, the compassion shown by Frankie Reece’s mother is the true spirit of Erskine Tower block and she offers another way.
As for Marnie and Stephen, Hilary finds a way to close the vicious circle in which Marnie and her step brother have been doing an unsettling dance for the last 6 books. She does so in a way that gives Marnie closure and offers hope to the reader.
And it is hope that we take away from this book. Hope that both Marnie and Noah are on a healing path. Hope that society will recognise that our children are being needlessly sacrificed. Hope that we can begin to look at ways we can bring our fragmented selves together to fight for a better future. Hope that there will be more like Mrs Reece who can show us the way.
I don’t know whether there will be more Marnie Rome books. I certainly hope so, but with Never Be Broken, it feels like we have come to a suitable place to pause and reflect, before taking that tentative step forward again.
Verdict: Heartbreaking, tense, intelligent storytelling from a writer at the top of her game. You won’t get better writing than this.
Sarah’s debut, Someone Else’s Skin, won Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year and was a World Book Night selection. The Observer’s Book of the Month (“superbly disturbing”) and a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, it was a Silver Falchion and Macavity Award finalist in the US. No Other Darkness, the second in the series was shortlisted for a Barry Award. Her DI Marnie Rome series continued with Tastes Like Fear (longlisted for Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year 2017) and Quieter Than Killing (Observer’s Thriller of the Month). Come and Find Me was published in 2018, with Never Be Broken in May 2019.