Crack by Chris Barraclough

I was expecting this thriller novella to be about drugs, so I was surprised when it wasn’t – at least not as directly as the title suggests it might be. Nathan Pang is a police constable, working an estate that could be anywhere in Britain’s darker underbelly with its tower blocks, concrete and gangs roaming wild. Of course there are drugs, but then there are all manner of other crimes – it’s all just part of the day-to-day life here.

Now Nathan is part-Chinese. His grandfather was Chinese, and he clearly looks Chinese to the extent that he’s questioned about his ancestry. So why do I mention this? Because coincidentally (how bizarre is this?) my grandfather was also Chinese and neither I, nor any of my gazillions of cousins look remotely oriental. But hey, I’ll suspend disbelief here, because Pang is an interesting character and full of internal conflict. He’s as much a victim of society as the thugs he arrests. Public sector cuts force the police to patrol alone, without backup, in areas where the slightest spark will ignite a tinderbox of rage and aggression. And the spark that Pang drops does all of that and more, as he’s distracted by domestic issues and unable to be with his young son in hospital. In a moment of  inattention, Pang does something he will regret for the rest of his life and suddenly we are in the middle of a full-scale riot.

Scene-setting is clearly one of Barraclough’s talents. From dark stairwells to exposed walkways, lifts that stink of urine to burnt-out shops, we get a real vision of what it’s like to live here and of the lives of the inhabitants that do. There’s a depth to the bad guys too – a sense of why they live the way they do and the code of ethics that permeates such a society. If you ever wondered what it was like on the inside of a riot, this book will not so much show you, as drag you kicking and screaming through the chaos, the violence and the terror. There are no shades of grey here, no half-truths – you are either on-side or off-side – and if you are off-side, you’re a dead man walking as Barraclough takes us on a roller-coaster ride, minute by minute through the heart of the action. The estate is closed off, the riot police are called in and events spiral out of control as Pang, his injured colleagues and young mum Kate are fighting for their lives.

The violence spreads throughout the town, taking on a life of its own. And Pang realises there is only one way to stop the madness as a lone voice speaks up to tell the truth about what really happened. Now I can see how the title fits the story; how the cracks in society can become gaping holes. The title itself is mirrored in the story-telling, unfolding almost in real-time until we get the full picture only at the end. Clever.

This is seat-of-the-pants reading, so grab yourself a drink and a snack and make yourself comfortable before you start. And remember to breathe occasionally …

Reviewed by Debbie Bennett

Crack is available in Kindle format 

Find out more about Chris Barraclough