|Into the River by Mark Brandi|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: A dark and harrowing story, but deftly written and very readable.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: March 2019|
|Publisher: Legend Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Two boys, Ben and Fab, are growing up in a small town in Northern Australia in the late 80's. They do all the normal things that boys of that age do - go yabbying (fishing), play cricket, fight their battles at school and think about girls. Their family lives are different; Ben comes from a happy home, whilst Fab is the son of Italian immigrants who clearly have little money, and has a father who is very violent. Yet despite their differences, they are fiercely loyal to each other. So far, so normal. But with the arrival of a new neighbour for Ben, a man called Ronnie, things begin to change. Ronnie wants Ben to come over to do some odd jobs for him, and both Ben and Fab are increasingly uncomfortable about this.
The story is very dark, dealing with child abuse and sexual violence. Though nothing is ever written explicitly, some readers will find it disturbing, and it's worth noting too that there are other sexual matters discussed (these boys are coming of age, after all) and the language can be quite strong. Yet the book is also very readable, and the characters engaging. Ben and Fab's friendship is clearly portrayed, and it is a deftly drawn picture of two boys growing up together and forming an extremely tight bond. There's an ever-present sense of menace though, even through their childhood highjinks, with the suicide of a neighbour's young daughter (and no one being sure why she'd done it), and the sense that Fab's father is always on the edge of another violent outburst, as well as the usual bullying that Fab faces at school.
With the entrance of Ronnie you're fairly screaming at the boys to be careful. There's nothing overt but his depiction is so terrifyingly creepy that you immediately know there is something very, very wrong with this man. It's difficult to see the story unfold, but utterly believable knowing how Ben is trying to be respectful of this neighbour, who his parents are friends with, and of how Fab is torn over his grief at losing his friendship with Ben, ignoring those little niggles of fear that he feels about Ronnie's relationship with Ben.
The story falls into three main parts, with Ben and Fab's childhood being followed by a section about Fab's life some twenty years later, finishing with the courtroom resolution of Ben and Fab's stories. Initially, I felt I wasn't as interested in the older Fab, but then as his story grew and developed I was caught up again in what was going on. The pace of the crime plot is very slow, yet because you're interested in the characters and their lives, that doesn't seem to matter. I found myself thinking one thing must have happened, only to discover later that it was something different than I'd thought, so I liked the slow unravelling of the story. It seems to hover on the edge between being crime fiction and literary fiction. It is a difficult read, and not exactly one you enjoy as a reader, but it's well-written, and if you can stand the subject matter it's worth taking a look.
You can read more book reviews or buy Into the River by Mark Brandi at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Into the River by Mark Brandi at Amazon.com.
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