Respect by Mandasue Heller
|Respect by Mandasue Heller|
|Reviewer: Margaret Young|
|Summary: Fifteen year old Chantelle finds a part time job more than she bargained for in a gritty crime novel that reads more like a book about dysfunctional families and relationships than crime.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 360||Date: January 2014|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton|
|External links: Author's website|
Growing up is difficult in the best of circumstances. The council estate where Chantelle has grown up in isn't decaying - it is dead and rotten. It has become a holding place for those who are condemned to a life of crime, at least when they aren't serving time. It is the type of place that saps ambition and hope from its unlucky inhabitants. But Chantelle is determined to break out. She has avoided all the pitfalls waiting for children in her situation, avoiding drugs, alcohol, crime and dead end relationships.
Chantelle is devoted to her studies as she desperately struggles for a chance at a better life. But keeping up in school is difficult when you have to act as parent to a younger sibling. Chantelle doesn't have the luxury of a parent to help with homework, or even regular meals and a quiet place to study. Chantelle's mother refuses to assume any responsibility for either of her children before finally packing in the Mommy bit altogether and absconding to Spain with her latest fling. Chantelle is left to try to pay for groceries, electricity, look after a child and finish school. And if that isn't bad enough, Chantelle's mother owes her dealer money, and he isn't the type to take no for answer.
A part time job seems to offer the answers to Chantelle's problems, at least the financial ones, but she has had to lie about her age in order to find work, and while she is out working, her younger brother is getting more and more involved with criminal elements. As things come crashing down on Chantelle, she is left with nowhere to turn except a former gang member who appears as bad to Chantelle as the other problems she is trying to escape. Can she really trust a player like Anton? If she makes a mistake, the results will be catastrophic, but Anton is the only one with any interest in helping her at all.
Mandasue Heller's books are all classed as crime fiction, but while they do involve crime, this is only a small part of the story. Petty crime is the backdrop to Chantelle's story, much as it is the backdrop to the life of anyone unfortunate enough to live on a council estate that has sunk this low. There is child abuse, violence, gangs, drugs and all the social blights you become so accustomed to that you eventually find them normal. Mandasue Heller has obviously lived in this type of estate and describes the setting with an insider's point of reference. More serious crime will come into play, but isn't the most important feature of the story.
The best part of this book is undoubtedly character development. Heller's main characters are so true to life they almost step off the pages. It is the relationships and interactions between the characters that make this worth reading. This is first and foremost a book about family, it includes growing up, learning to trust and love, of an unusually pure type for today's fiction. If you are looking for graphic descriptions of crime or detective work, this book would not be the best choice. But if you want a very realistic understanding of what it is like to live through these type of events, why children get involved in crime, and what life is like in a crime ridden estate, this is your book.
Personally, I've never been a huge fan of crime fiction. There are a few books in the genre I have enjoyed, but none to the point that I have sought out more books by the same author, until now. What I do like though is a very well written book, with life like three-dimensional characters, a coherent story line, and narrative that allows you to feel as if you are in another place and or time. This book ticks all three boxes for me. I was so immersed in the story I literally felt the hair rise on the back of my neck at one point. Crime fiction may never be my genre of choice, but if the rest of Heller's books are anywhere near as good as this one, they belong in genre all by themselves. I've already been browsing the author's previous works. I may have my reservations about crime books, but I have none about any book with this author's name on the front.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Respect by Mandasue Heller at Amazon.com.
Respect by Mandasue Heller is in the Top Ten Crime Novels of 2014.
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