Breakers by Doug Johnstone #BookReview #BlogTour

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.

I'm thrilled to be hosting the blog tour for Breakers by Doug Johnstone today. Huge thanks to the author, Orenda Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

It's just as well that Breakers is a fairly short book because it is so compelling, I resented having to do anything else while I was reading it! The central character, Tyler is a young man ostensibly on the brink of adulthood but who, because of his chaotic, nightmarish home life has effectively been forced to take on the role of adult since he was at least ten years old. His mother is an alcoholic and drug addict whose sole focus in life has become her next fix and his half brother and sister, Barry and Kelly who live next door bully and coerce him into helping them rob houses in the more affluent parts of Edinburgh.
It wouldn't take much to condemn Tyler as yet another no-hoper, destined for a life marked by violence and criminal activity and likely to end up in prison or worse. However, within the first few pages of Breakers, it's very clear that he is more than his family history; his gentle care of his seven-year-old sister, Bethany - known as Bean demonstrates that behind the tough facade lies an empathetic young man who is caught up in a life he would never have chosen but doesn't seem able to escape. Barry's fists don't discriminate between strangers and his family, giving Tyler little choice but to accompany him and Kelly when they stage their bold, well-practised break-ins. However, things go horribly wrong when they are disturbed on a job by the woman who lives in the house and Barry stabs her. Tyler is horrified but things go from bad to worse when he learns the woman they left for dead is the wife of Deke Holt, a notorious local crime lord who will stop at nothing to exact his own form of justice.
Tyler meets Flick, a seemingly privileged, rich girl when he seeks solitude in a different house. One of the many strengths of Breakers is the way that the lives of Tyler and Flick appear to be very different at first glance but on closer examination, they are both the products of damaged families and perhaps it isn't so surprising that they are drawn to one another. Doug Johnstone balances the ever-present threat of escalating violence with more poignant moments; Tyler's love for Bean and the way he makes sure she is ready for school every day; the stray dog and puppies they care for; his practical acceptance of his mother's addiction and the tentative friendship which develops between the two young people - one streetwise but self-conscious, the other headstrong yet vulnerable.
This isn't the picturesque, tourist-friendly Edinburgh, these are the forgotten, deprived streets where  poverty extends beyond material possessions and the people here have little hope to sustain them either. As Tyler wryly observes about aspirational daytime television, 'what if you had nothing to start with? Or less than nothing, what then?' The stabbing of Monica Holt leaves him wracked with guilt but he is too caught up in the painful complexities of his existence to be able to seize the chance of a potential way out when it is offered to him. He remains trapped by fear - of what Barry or the Holts are capable of, and his desperate need to protect Bean and to allow her to remain innocent for as long as possible. Innocence is something he missed out on and his memories of Bean's traumatic birth are heart-wrenching to read. His relationship with his older siblings is understandably more troubled and they are definitely the cause of many of his problems but Doug Johnstone never completely forsakes their humanity and while what we learn about their upbringing may not excuse what they - and Barry in particular - are culpable of, it does at least explain the vicious circle of brutality and depravity they were born into.
The fast pacing and tense plotting means there is a constant sense of dread as Tyler realises that the clash between the Holts and Wallaces is unstoppable. Although the inevitable confrontation is horribly irresistible, it is Tyler's choices which make these scenes so memorable and with Bean and Flick both threatened by the decisions he has made, the story explores whether hope and forgiveness are possible in even the most toxic of circumstances. Doug Johnstone's latest is one of those novels which really got under my skin; the characters are uncompromising and vivid representations of those who are forced to make their own choices in the violent, unforgiving world in which they have been born. Breakers is a brilliant book, it is a painfully honest, complex and urgent social commentary which should remind us all that every person has their own story to tell. Highly recommended.

Breakers is published by Orenda Books, purchasing links can be found here.

My blog buddy today is Jo at Online Blanket Fort, her review can be found here. Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

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.
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  1. Thanks so much for your constant Blog Tour support Karen x


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