I’ve just been looking at my eyes in the mirror. They have definitely increased in size since reading this ‘thriller’ by Paul Read (pictured inset). The novel is an eye-opener purely because of the sheer un-believability of the plot. Every chapter gets more and more incredible and surpasses anything that resembles reality. However, this is what makes it a fairly good read. I was disappointed that it wasn’t better, given that it had some fairly good reviews in the media, which prompted me to get a copy. Having said that, once I had accepted how farfetched the plot was, I relaxed into the storyline more easily and accepted its bizarreness.
The story centres on Patrick Owen, who teaches art at an underachieving school in south-east London. It sounds like somewhere deep in the depths of Thamesmead. He hates his job. He hates his pupils. He hates himself. Patrick is generally disaffected with his life, failed music career, broken marriage and irregular contact with his young son. Despite continuously failing Ofsted inspections, Highfields School remains open and struggles with the challenging behaviour of its pupils on a daily basis. The school is next to a large council estate where gang culture is the norm. Patrick has poor control over his pupils and has given up the will to teach them. One of his pupils, Denis, a leading gang member, pushes boundaries to the limits. He physically threatens Patrick in class and they have altercations outside of school, resulting in Patrick assaulting Denis on one occasion, and with Denis holding a knife to Patrick’s neck on another. None of this gets reported to the police. Then one day matters intensify in class when Denis indecently assaults a fellow pupil Jenna in front of Patrick, who, instead of reporting it to the headmaster and the police, goes around to Jenna’s home in a nearby ‘concrete jungle estate’ and tells her mother, Sarah. Before too long Patrick falls in love with Sarah (a totally unbelievable pairing – oil and water spring to mind). Anyway, one night when Patrick is visiting Sarah, he goes into Jenna’s bedroom to look for proof that she is being bullied by Denis – or determine if they are in a relationship – and discovers a handgun and a large amount of cannabis hidden under her bed. Shortly afterwards Jenna shoots Denis dead after he allegedly tries to rape her. Jenna then turns to Patrick for help and he obliges because he wants to win her approval for dating her mother. So Patrick does what Jenna requests and removes evidence (including the gun) from the crime scene; although we later discover that he was ‘set up’. Let me just finish by saying that after a lacklustre police investigation involving many twists and turns, the gang that Denis was the lead member of ‘takes over the case’ placing Patrick’s life in grave danger. All of this ensures that the incredulous storyline continues with its characters remaining outside the realms of reality right to the very end.
I think the storyline might work better if it was labelled as ‘young adult fiction’ as opposed to ‘adult fiction’ because I could see many young people quite enjoying the story and its characters. It reads very easily and has a fast pace to it that works. The novel is compiled into four main parts with short chapters in each section. Read uses very quirky descriptions of people in the story and whilst these would seem strange in a more conventional novel, I think young readers would warm to this more than experienced fiction readers who might consider them ‘amateurish’.
© Declan Henry