Friday, 8 March 2013

Edgars 2013: Crusher by Niall Leonard Review

This is the second in a series of five posts reviewing the nominees for the 2013 Best Young Adult Novel Edgar Allan Poe Award, the winner of which will be announced on 2nd May 2013.

After coming home from work to find his step-father, a writer currently working on a script about an underworld king-pin, bludgeoned to death, high school drop-out Finn Maguire becomes the police’s premium suspect. With the police seemingly reluctant to consider other possibilities, Finn must venture into London’s criminal underworld in order to find some answers and clear his name.

Writer Niall Leonard sure knows how to write a fast-paced, action-packed thriller. Although Crusher is his first novel, he has had years of experience as a screenwriter for British TV series including Hornblower and Wire in the Blood, and Crusher reads just like it was written for television.

Crusher contains everything that YA readers brought up on screen-based entertainment could possibly want: a sadistic gangster; a hero capable of defending himself against trained killers; unexpected plot twists; even a femme fatale, in the form of Zoe, Finn’s sort-of-girlfriend. The individual scenes are exciting and cinematic, and keep you turning the pages until the very end. Yet, in spite of this, I never actually cared whether Finn lived or died. This is largely because Crusher’s greatest strength is also its weakness.

With television, it’s often necessary to sacrifice character development and back story in order to fit an episode into the allotted time. This happens all the time with mystery shows and audiences accept it because they understand the situation, but with books, things are different. Within reason, a book can be as long as it needs to be, so there’s no reason to scrimp on set-up and depth of character. Nevertheless, this is exactly what Leonard does in Crusher. Plot twists are unexpected because they come out of nowhere; and Finn’s character is reduced down to the bare-bone facts that he’s a drop-out with dyslexia (which, incidentally, seems to get better or worse, as suits the story). It’s difficult to give a damn about a character who you never really know, and it’s equally difficult to care about a mystery when you aren’t given enough information to stand a chance of solving it for yourself.

Crusher is literary junk food. It was fun while it lasted, but had so little substance that, less than two days after finishing it, I need to flip back through my copy in order to remember the details. I enjoyed it enough so that I wouldn’t rule out reading the sequel, which Leonard is reportedly working on at the moment, but I’ll wait until it comes into my local library.

Verdict: An enjoyable but forgettable debut from the husband of Fifty Shade of Grey author E.L. James.

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