Hamelin's Child by DJ Bennett (5/5)

Wednesday 29 October 2014
Michael Redford died on his seventeenth birthday – the night Eddie picked him up off the street, shot him full of heroin and assaulted him.

Now he’s Mikey and he works for Joss. With streaked blond hair and a cute smile, he sleeps by day and services clients at night. Sometimes he remembers his old life, but with what he’s become now, he knows there is no return to his comfortable middle-class background.

Then he makes a friend in Lee. A child of the streets, Lee demands more from friendship than Mikey is prepared to give. But the police are closing in on them now and Mikey’s not sure anymore who he really is – streetwise Mikey or plain Michael Redford.

Hamelin’s Child was long-listed in the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. A thriller set in the seedy world of London's drug rings, this book contains strong scenes and adult material. 

I was browsing Amazon when I came across this book. The author very kindly sent me a review copy and I couldn't wait to start it. With some glowing reviews on Amazon I started it with a bit of trepidation at what to expect. Debbie Bennett has written one hell of a story here, one that will pull at your heartstrings and have you experiencing every emotion possible as you read. At times the story becomes so difficult you almost want to put the book down, but it is just too gripping to do that. 

Michael is approached in a bar by a stranger when his girlfriend is occupied with another man, the stranger spikes Michael's drink, taking him back to a flat in the East End where he is kept prisoner, raped, shot full of heroin and sold for sex. We see Michael, or Mikey, go from a normal teenager to a drug addict, so dependent on the drug he will do anything for it. Debbie has captured the mind of the male teenager incredibly well. We really get inside Mikey's head, and start to understand his thought processes. At times he is confused and angry, coming across sometimes like an adult yet retaining that childlike vulnerability that teenagers still have. Sharing the house with a boy named Lee, Mikey wants to escape, but it isn't long before his drug addiction prevents him from doing so. His friendship with Lee starts to develop further, leaving him even more confused and angry at the things he is thinking and feeling. You do want Mikey to escape and find freedom but at the same time know that there won't be much of a story if that happens. Lee has an adult voice despite being younger than Mikey, and this isn't due to an author fault but the fact that Lee has had to grow up very fast.

Debbie writes with such knowledge about the subject of drugs and the world Mikey finds himself in that it adds a greater feeling of authenticity to the novel. Scarily so at times which left me wondering just how she knows this world so well. A look at her biography says she worked in law enforcement for 25 years. Perhaps that's where it comes from but the book feeling so real draws more emotion from you as a reader, parts of the book were read by me with a lump in my throat, my heart thumping in my chest. In the background we have Mikey's sister Kate looking for him, the only one in her family that doesn't think he ran away, she thinks there's more to it. These parts of the book I didn't enjoy as much, and found myself wanting to get back to Mikey's part of the story. Events halfway through though change drastically, meaning I was hooked on the book and simply unable to put it down.

What was all the more horrifying for me is how real this story felt. Walking around London, or indeed any major city in the UK you very rarely take notice of the people around you. In a club especially, or on the street outside, a man walking with a younger man and taking him down a side alley might not draw much attention. It's scary but it is also true to life. In London now there are people living the life that Michael unwittingly found himself in, and there are men preying on the vulnerable. It's a very human story, with very realistic characters not just in Mikey and Lee but in the people keeping them prisoner. Eddie, who kidnaps Mikey, and Joss, the owner of the flat the boys are prisoner in are as evil as they come. Very rarely have I felt hatred for a fictional character more than I did for these two men. It's a very thought provoking book. Mikey makes a number of choices throughout the book that aren't perhaps the ones you think he should but it makes sense because of the person he has been forced to become. It's impossible to say how you would react in this situation and you really agonise along with Mikey as he struggles to make sense of things.

More often than not you finish a book and move on to the next one. However when a story affects you as much as this one - I found myself thinking about the characters when I wasn't reading the book - it is incredibly hard to just finish it and move on. Because of how real it felt, the character of Mikey is so vivid in my mind that you almost want to reach out and help him, I am still thinking about it even now. It's hard to reccommend a book like this, does it have a particular audience? I think not. I think if people look beyond the blurb, rather than being put off I'd urge people to pick it up. It makes you grateful for your own life. It would make a parent hug their child extra tight at night and make all of us more wary of those around us when we are out and about. You only need to read the news to know stories similar to Mikey's kidnapping appear far too often.

Never once is the book predictable. You have an idea of what's going to happen and then Debbie takes you on a completely different path. The ending knocked me for six, I was speechless, sitting staring at the book long after finishing it. It's a heartbreaking ending, but one that demands you read the sequel, which is just what an author sets out to achieve. I have a review TBR which scares me, yet this book was so good I just don't think I can wait very long to continue the story. If this was a film or a TV show, the ending is so dramatic that there would be an audible silence around the room as the credits rolled. It stunned me and left me speechless and if I'm honest a bit upset. This definitely isn't a book to miss, and those that might perhaps be put off by the subject matter should totally look beyond that, and give this book a chance. 

Thanks to Debbie Bennett for the review copy. 

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