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by Niall Leonard
Doubleday Childrens, September 2012
329 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 0857532081

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is a classic case of not judging a book by its title, which is hardly inspiring, but the book itself is brilliant a real old-fashioned crime thriller. It's said to be aimed at young adults, but will also attract and hold the most cynical of older readers. The hero, Finn Maguire, is no off-beat policeman or smart-mouthed PI; he's a dyslexic teenage drop-out with a drugs conviction, living in squalor and in a dead-end job at a fast food restaurant. His only escape from this endless hopeless round is a physical outlet through boxing and training.

Finn has little talent for much except fighting and he charges into situations without thought. But he's tough and determined to do the right thing, even when everything seems against him. He is also capable of emotional detachment perhaps from self-preservation and perhaps with his ancestry providing more than a touch of that old Ulster dictum: don't get mad, get even. His flaws make him instantly likeable he's certainly no smoothie and his gradual discovery of emotion gives the book some real gravity and feeling.

Other characters are a little thin a bit like walk-on actors, which is hardly surprising as Niall Leonard is a successful screenwriter but they are all here, the stock company of crime fiction: the ruthless gang boss who always pays his debts, the bad girl with her decent side trying to get out, the corrupt detective with one spark of decency left, the thoroughly nasty henchman hoping to seize power, the general scum which provides the heavies without which the underworld could not exist. They lack much depth, but serve a purpose, often as red herrings in a clever and amazingly plausible plot and do so without detracting from the struggles of Finn as the main character.

The plot twists and turns after Finn discovers his drunken, has-been TV actor father beaten to death with his only award statuette and, suspected by the police, sets out to find his own answers. The story moves at a cracking rate, with some snappy dialogue and genuinely realistic violence towards a surprising, but plausible conclusion, as he comes to terms with both the truth about his own family and himself.

As a crime story it works well enough to be a real page-turner. As a straight read it's surprisingly compelling on several levels. Beneath his overdeveloped muscles and under-rated and frequently under-employed brain, Finn is a very real and very human.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, November 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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