By Niall Leonard
Published by Doubleday
ISBN 978 0 857 53208 4
The hard-boiled crime novel, where an innocent person is accused of a crime he did not commit and has to take things into his own hands, has been a popular theme of adult fiction for decades.
Irish author Niall Leonard probably thought he was onto a winner when he had the idea of writing a crime novel about a teenage boy accused of a crime of which he is innocent of. Who can Finn Maguire turn to when he becomes a prime suspect for murder? The plucky teen has no choice but to run around, getting himself into all sorts of dangerous situations, to prove he didn't do it.
The police, of course, are no help. This is cliche number one in Crusher. There are more to follow.
Finn tells his own story, and while this makes the story lively, it also brings problems. We learn that "Crusher" is Finn's nickname because he is good at boxing. This little fact seems to be there just to give the novel a tough title. Finn also tells us that he is dyslexic, in a dead-end job in a fast-food joint and has absolutely no qualifications from school.
Could a young man with all this stacked against him be able to narrate a personal story with such fluency and ease? It's a question that stays at the back of the reader's mind as the novel unfolds.
Leonard opens Crusher with a classic crime situation: Finn comes home one night to find his dad lying dead on the floor and blood all over the place. The boy stays calm, unlike many people would in such a situation, and calls the police. Enter Detective Inspector Prendergast, the unhelpful and unfriendly cop who always pops up to give the hero a hard time in novels like Crusher. Finn is immediately under unlikely suspicion of killing his father. Having no faith in the police or the social worker who offers help, Finn has no alternative but to sort out his father's mystery death himself and prove his own innocence.
There is quite a smattering of strong language in Crusher and this might surprise or even upset some readers. There is also violence, but very much of the cartoon variety, which won't ruffle any feathers.
But the suspense is there all the way, and the plot, even though it has more holes in it than a sieve, keeps you wanting more. Finn is an unreal but engaging central character, so the best thing to do is stop telling yourself it doesn't ring true and just enjoy the ride.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com