Reviewed by: Ryan Bracha
Approximate word count: 85,000-90,000 words
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Debbie Bennett is a civil servant with 25 years of experience within law enforcement, and has written several books, one of which (Hamelin’s Child) was long-listed for The Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award.
Michael Redford meets Eddie in a nightclub on his seventeenth birthday, who spikes his drink and kidnaps him, pumping him full of heroin and raping him several times. Once he comes to, three weeks later, he is pimped out by Eddie and his cohort Joss in exchange for heroin fixes. His only ally is the more experienced yet younger boy Lee, who also lives in the flat that he is held hostage in. Throughout all of this, Michael’s sister Kate tries to track down the brother that the rest of the world believes is dead.
I found myself pulled in two directions by Hamelin’s Son. The story itself is great, the harrowing and no doubt realistic story of a teenager forced to grow up by the unfortunate and downright nasty circumstances which he finds himself in. The descriptive prose paints a pretty slick image of a world where grown men can prey on young men’s vulnerability, and Bennett’s experience in the world of law enforcement certainly shines through the darkness of the tale she tells.
My issue with it was that I honestly did not care whether Michael lived or died, or whether he would eventually be found by his sister. The characters were what let this story down, it could well have been a plank of balsa wood that was kidnapped and raped, and it would have stirred just the same emotions – none. The character of Kate was equally dull, and of all of the personal struggles she was having, attempting to organize (or call off) a wedding whilst at the same time trying to hold her regimented family together, I couldn’t care less. Some of the dialogue felt occasionally clunky for this reader, and perhaps even a little unrealistic (I imagined most of it as if it were spoken by the cast of Pride and Prejudice, yet these people are supposed to be London rogues), and some of the decisions made were just slightly too convenient for the purpose of the story, but that’s a minor gripe which didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment.
In summary, this was a really good, descriptively dark and harrowing tale of addiction and sexuality, but the cardboard characters and some of the dialogue badly let it down for my taste. Heroin has been done better in the past (Requiem For A Dream, Trainspotting), and no doubt will be done better again in the future.
Adult language and content throughout.
Rating: *** Three Stars