Monday, 11 June 2012

THE DAMAGE by Howard Linskey - a review

A few weeks ago, whilst packing up after the ABIDE WITH ME Walthamstow Watersones Book Signing, I was offered by the lovely staff to choose a book of my choice as a gift.  Without hesitation, I picked up THE DAMAGE, by Howard Linskey.  


'There's a thought that keeps me awake at night; I have to be lucky every time, they only have to get lucky once.'

David Blake is a worried man. He should be enjoying the high life now he's Newcastle's 'Top Boy', the man who controls everything in the city that's worth controlling. The money keeps on rolling in and Blake is sharing his life with the girl that he loves, Sarah Mahoney. Shame he had to murder her father to save his own skin but at least she doesn't know anything about that. 

Blake never wanted to be boss but who else is savvy enough to deal with all of the firm's problems? Newly-crowned Glasgow crime lord, Alan Gladwell, wants to do business with the firm and the deal makes sense but can Blake really trust the man whose brother he brutally murdered?

Then one of his men takes two bullets in the back and someone tries to take Blake out. As he struggles to stay in control, Blake is in a race against time to find his potential assassin and discover the truth in 'The Damage'.

 It's fair to say, in terms of writing, I've got some pretty staid opinions.  I can't abide adverbs, adjectives, exclamation marks, or prologues.  Thankfully, The Damage is brilliantly written, so the first three were thankfully absent.  As were the exclamation marks. But there was a prologue.  I bristled, but knowing Howard to be an excellent writer, I read on.  I read on and on, and I didn't stop till the final chapter brought me to the thrilling end.

You see, with the best of writers, and Howard Linskey has proved to me with THE DAMAGE he is among them, they teach us other writers stuff.  And the use of the prologue for me was a big lesson.  That displacement in time and location that is sometimes necessary to set the story up - something to sow a seed in the mind of the reader, that when returned to later in the book, pulls a whole lot of threads tight together.  And I must say, this prologue ends with one of the most devestatitng scenes I've had the pleasure to read.  I knew from just these few pages, this was going to be quite a read.

As the pages went by, and I entered the world of David Blake, running his gangland empire from his Thailand compound, returning to the Newcastle underworld to sort out a thing or two, it occurred to me, although I was enjoying the book immensely, it was not my normal kind of reading.  I'm very much a noir fan, and my reading, and my writing, tends to lead me in the direction of broken people making their way through the shadows of their broken lives.  Don't get me wrong, THE DAMAGE is full of broken people - but it's slick read, a class act.  If I had to put my finger on it, I'd say it was almost a thriller.   And saying THE DAMAGE is more a thriller than a noir book is not to say the characters are shallow.  They're not.  Not by a long way.

David Blake is a complex individual.  Despite being the head of a drug empire employing some of the nastiest scrotes this side of the Scottish border, he is vulnerable and he is thoughtful.  At one point in the book, he is openly frightened.  Okay, so he has the propensity for extreme violence as well, but as a reader I liked him.  I also liked his two right-hand men - Kinane and Palmer.  Thoughtful, yet capable of the most extreme violence, both.  

But Linskey's characters are never as clear cut as even that.  There are no Martina Cole cardboard cut-outs at the end of this man's pen.  

There is a scene almost painful in it's telling where one of the henchmen decries the actions of his boss in the rubbing out of a rival.  So well written was it, I found myself wincing at every word, slowing down as I read, feeling the henchman's confusion and angst.  

So, I was reading a thriller.  And loving it.  What struck me most was how the intricate plot never once seemed out of the control of the writer.  Reading THE DAMAGE is to read a writer in full control of his pen.  And that, that to me is worth the admission money alone.

The world of David Blake is violent and complex, a man trying to keep his empire from collapsing inwards.  We hear his plans, his regrets, his fears, and his justifications.  The chapters are short and punchy, and they fly by.  And then, about half way through the book, another narrator takes over - just for one, tiny chapter.  For just a few pages, we see the world through the eyes of one of Blake's crew.  It's a risk.  And, for me, it shows what a class writer Howard Linskey is.  Just that one chapter elevates this book into the clear blue sky.  Like I said, when you are as much in control of your pen as Howard Linskey is, you can do what you want.  

From Thailand to Newcastle, the bodycount rises, from Newcastle to Thailand, it rises again, and as we hurtle towards the end, I feared for David Blake.  That's right.  I feared for a man who had committed, and sanctioned, the killing of his rivals almost without a thought.  A man that had brutally murdered his dear lady's dad,  The fact I feared for him - me, a born and bred lifelong pacifist - is the biggest testament to the writing ability of Howard Linskey.

Brilliant stuff.

THE DAMAGE is the second in the series of David Blake books.  The first - THE DROP - is being adapated for television by David Barron (Harry Potter producer), and here's hoping THE DAMAGE is in for the same treatment somewhere along the line.

THE DAMAGE is available in all good bookshops, and on Amazon:        
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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