Review: Human Conditioning by Louise Hirst

Thursday 5 March 2015
Title: Human Conditioning
Author: Louise Hirst
Publisher: Self-published
Publication Date: 5th September 2013
Pages: 460
ISBN: 9781492348375
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4.5/5
Purchase: Amazon
One man’s master plan to escape his environment...

East End of London. 1986. Aiden Foster is sixteen years old. He lives on the most notorious council estate in Hackney. He has no prospects. His father is an alcoholic. His mother never wanted him. His guardian is overbearing. He craves control over his own life. He wants out of the squalor.

He wants to make a name for himself the only way he knows how.

But at what cost to those closest to him?

I find it more difficult to review books in this genre with each one that I read, there are after all only so many ways you can say you enjoyed a book. What I look for then when reading a book set in London's underworld is originality, whether that be in the storyline or the book's characters. Human Conditioning starts a little differently, with criminal Aiden Foster about to be interviewed by a reporter for the BBC. Our introduction to Aiden is of a man not dissimilar to others in this genre but I did like the opening to this book, which explains why Aiden is in prison, the various crimes he has committed and it gives us a glimpse of the man he is now before the book takes us back in time to 1986.

What I particularly enjoyed about Human Conditioning is the focus on the characters rather than violence for the sake of violence (though there is a lot of that as well and the more the better I say). Louise has said: 'I like to focus my stories around human emotion. I'm fascinated with the way people think and act and what makes them tick' and that is really what is delivered with this book. Is Aiden just a victim of circumstance or is that just an easy explanation for the way he is? Not everybody growing up on a council estate becomes a criminal and not every criminal had a bad start in life. That said, Louise paints a picture here that does perhaps make the reader see just why Aiden made the choices that he made, and why the life of a criminal was preferable to making an honest living, making in a day what any job he would be employed for would take months to earn. Louise has created what I took to be a very realistic and believable portrayal of that life, with characters who might have had completely different, and happier lives had their circumstances been different. It's a thought-provoking book with very believable characters.

For that reason Human Conditioning was a really refreshing read, I was compelled to read on and found myself really getting caught up in the lives of these characters. I can't list them all without making this review essay length, but there's a couple that stand out more than most and those are the women in Aiden's life who face much heartache at his hands and those of his associates. Despite having an idea of what Aiden got up to in the years between his criminal life and imprisonment, we obviously don't know the full story and that is what we get as the book progresses, and my thoughts of Aiden went from hating him, to seeing the good in him, to hating him again. Books that get you involved like this, feeling genuine emotion for the characters are all the more enjoyable than books that you just read and then forget about. As the book progressed and Aiden's actions and life started to spiral out of control, I could not read this book quick enough and was gobsmacked at some of the revelations and events towards the end of the book.

Louise has a very distinctive writing style, the book having been professionally edited and the effort that has gone into the book is evident whilst reading. It does though have some of the hallmarks of various authors who have had success in this genre. I have no trouble then in recommending this book for fans of Kimberley Chambers and Jacqui Rose, two of my favourites, and I firmly believe that Louise Hirst deserves to be snapped up by a publisher so that her books can be read by a larger audience. I stumbled upon this book by accident, but I'm very glad that I did and even more glad that I took a chance on it. I'll definitely be hoping to read Louise's first book Unforgiven very soon.


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