Friday, October 19, 2012

Crusher by Niall Leonard

Crusher is a book with a marketing problem. Or perhaps “peculiarity” is a better word than “problem.” You see, Niall Leonard happens to be married to E. L. James, she of the Fifty Shades of Grey fame, and the publisher has been touting this in its press about the book. I suppose it’s attention-grabbing, but I think it does the book a disservice for a number of reasons: Crusher is a completely different book, written for a completely different audience, and this sort of marketing makes it seem like Leonard used his wife to pave his way to publication.

Actually, Leonard does have some good writing credits, which were thankfully also mentioned in the press release I received. He’s written for several well-known UK television shows like Hornblower and Wire in the Blood. I suppose it’s inevitable that his relationship to James would have emerged, whether or not the publisher touted it. Perhaps the strategy really does help sell more copies of the book – I wouldn’t know – but I still think it’s strange (and funny).

All that aside, Leonard has written a thoroughly enjoyable mystery of publishable quality. It doesn’t surprise me that he has experience writing television – the book is fast, with lots of dialogue and action. It’s one of those books that could also accurately be described as a thriller, although it’s certainly a whodunit as well.

Seventeen year old Finn Maguire is a high school dropout, working at a London fast food place and living with his dad, a has-been actor now struggling (and failing) to start a new career as a screenwriter. Finn comes home from work one day to find his dad bludgeoned to death, and as is almost always the case in mystery novels, our protagonist is the prime suspect.

Since Finn figures the police are too busy focusing on him to find the real murderer, he decides to do some investigating of his own. His search leads him to a mob boss named McGovern, and before long, Finn is in deep, deep trouble. But he’s also uncovering lots of secrets and getting closer to finding the truth.

Crusher doesn’t have a large number of characters, which also means it doesn’t have a large pool of suspects. Due to this fact, many listeners may find the culprit easy to guess. They may also feel that a certain red herring takes up entirely too much of the plot. Still, these flaws are easy to overlook, at least in the audio version, in light of the book’s strengths.

Primary among these strengths is Finn’s (first person) voice, of which the narration is part and parcel. I’m a sucker for narrators with accents, and Daniel Weyman has a terrific one. He’s great at conveying Finn’s bluster and toughness, but also the emotion that his tough words try to hide. I read a review of Crusher that called Finn a “cold fish,” but I found that to be far from the truth in Weyman’s capable hands. Finn puts up a strong front, but he’s clearly torn up about his father’s death, and later events in the story show his shell cracking further. After a pretty heart-breaking denouement, I was really feeling for the guy.

One element that was not as easy to overlook, however, was the female element. Basically, all the females in Crusher are awful. One or two may approach “realistically flawed,” but that’s pushing it. Of course, the males aren’t too great, either, so it doesn’t bother me as much as it would otherwise. This is a book peopled with some very unsavory characters, not unexpected for a book about the mob. (Normally I stay away from books that feature the mob in any way, but I love listening to mysteries on audio above all, and I figured I would give this a shot.)

Leila reviewed this one a little while ago, and she focuses on how it doesn’t seem to really be a young adult novel, due to its lack of “firsts” for its main character. That’s a question I don’t have a firm opinion on, but I think it’s interesting to ponder. Regardless, I think Crusher will certainly appeal to teens who like grittier mysteries and stories about the mob, and this is a well-done audio version.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Crusher is available now.

2 comments:

  1. It's his first murder mystery to solve?

    I enjoyed this one, and I agree about the James marketing being sort of odd. But I love seeing a male author asked if a novel is based on his sex life.

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  2. For some people, reading E.L. James in the same sentence of Niall Leonard would be enough incentive to read the book. For me it wasn't. When I just saw the cover I instantly thought of adding it to my list, after reading that it is related to E.L. James (the author, not the book) it just lost its appeal! I have nothing against E.L. James though, it's just that...

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