About The Book
Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Whilst trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addicted mother, he’s also coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings.
One night whilst on a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead. And that’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because they soon discover 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 terrible danger, Tyler is running out of options, until he meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house. Could she be his salvation? Or will he end up dragging her down with him?
Breakers by Doug Johnstone is set in Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities, but the Edinburgh in this book is not the Edinburgh I know and love. In this novel, Edinburgh is a dark and dangerous place with drug addicts, burglary, poverty and aggression. Our protagonist is Tyler, a young man for whom life is tough. He lives on the top floor of a block of flats with his mother and younger sister, Bethany, who he calls Bean. His step-siblings Barry and Kelly live in the flat opposite and have done ever since Barry forced a Syrian family to flee after terrorising them and scaring them witless.
Barry is, to not put too fine a point on it, evil. He is one of those men you’d cross the street to avoid and try very hard not to inadvertently get eye contact with. It is he who rules the family and it is he who makes Kelly and Tyler break into houses with him. They drive around Edinburgh looking for houses which don’t have CCTV, have secluded drives, homes which look empty and force entry into them, stealing everything they can carry. One night when in the midst of ransacking a house something goes wrong, and they realise they have messed up. Big time.
Tyler is dragged into this life of crime, it isn’t something he wants to do but you cannot say no to Barry. To counteract the darkness of his life Tyler occasionally breaks into houses by himself just to have some time alone. These houses represent what he sees as normal family life, loving parents, well-cared for children and food in the fridge. These excursions are a holiday from his normal life and whilst he is in a house he shouldn’t be in, somebody else breaks in, a young woman named Flick.
Tyler and Flick are seemingly opposite, she is very wealthy, attends a private boarding school, has a family home worth millions and drives her own car, whilst he lives in a council flat with sparse furniture and attends school when he can be bothered. It would be easy to portray Flick as an atypical rich girl for whom life is easy, but Doug Johnstone doesn’t do this. As the book progresses it becomes clear that your background defines you in a myriad of ways and, rather then her wealth and good fortune making life easy for her, she is just as metaphorically chained as Tyler is – the only difference is what the chains are.
For Tyler it is his family, a mother who is a drug addict, step-siblings who are both terrifying and brow-beaten and a younger sister who depends upon him more than she realises. Whilst it is easy to see Tyler’s sadness in his demeanour, Flick’s is buried beneath the surface. It is only as time goes on that we realise that she is very lonely and isolated and it is her money and circumstances that, rather than giving her opportunities, are making her life small.
Yes, this is a crime novel, but it is also an astute and timely exploration of society, class and deprivation. It is beautifully and sensitively written and the characterisation, especially of Tyler is great. He is one of those characters who worm their way deep into your heart and is a prime example of good people doing bad things. His motivations for the bad things are born of fear but also everything he does is for his younger sister, Bean. This relationship is the centre of Tyler’s world with the love he feels for her being the purest and simplest thing and something he will do anything to protect.
I really loved this book and found it quite heart-breaking. Reading about a young man who is furiously trying to make his life better against the circumstances he finds himself in was very affecting. Tyler is fictitious but I know that there are many kids just like him, stuck in sad and desperate situations and for whom life is a daily struggle. Books like this bring issues like these to the fore making this a crime book which will stay with me for quite sometime.
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.
Where You Can Buy It
My thanks to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books and Anne Cater of Random Things tours for an invitation on to the Blog Tour and for a copy of the book. Breakers is out now in ebook and is published on 16th May in paperback.