Book review

A Kind of Wild Justice by Bernard Ashley (1978)

Ronnie's on his own. He lives in a kind of No Man's Land of fear and bewilderment. He lives in the east end - in the Bradshaw brothers' territory. They've occupied his waking thoughts pretty much all his life. Ronnie's Dad is in with the Bradshaws, you see.

The thing is, once you're in with the Bradshaws, you can never get out again:

'One word outta place, Steve, my son, an' we break the kid's back, right?'
They'd both taken their eyes off his nodding father and stared at Ronnie, who could still remember trying to get behind the greasy cooker.
'No messin' about, no second chances or none o' that, right?'
And both Ronnie and his white-faced father had known they would keep their word. The only trouble was, while Ronnie never forgot, his father's memory could be drowned along with his sorrows - and brandy or best bitter always seemed to make his mouth go slack.

So he lives with it. And it doesn't leave much room for anything else in his life - especially not at school:

But he wasn't bothered. He couldn't be. No kid who lived under the real threat of having his back broken by the Bradshaws could have much feeling left over to worry about Miss Lovejoy, or Mrs Monks, or clean hands for looking at Squirrel Nutkin.

And now his Dad's up to something again with the Bradshaws, but this time, the plan includes Ronnie, and somebody's made a fool of his Dad. That's bad, for Ronnie. 

Without his Dad, Ronnie's really on his own. He's well used to taking care of himself. He's small and unwashed, with a bitter strip down through the middle of him, but he still needs someone on his side.

Who's it going to be? His Dad's in the nick. His Mum's done a runner. School's a dead loss. The police are prowling round his door, and the Welfare. And there's the Bradshaws, There isn't anyone else in his world, is there?

Bit of a page-turner, this one. I really needed to know that Ronnie was going to sort it. Read it, I think you'll love it.

What can I read next?

Bernard Ashley isn't easy to read. He writes about big ideas, and the language isn't simple. But they are brilliant books. I love them. If you would like to read another book by the same author, have a look at this one, about an asylum-seeking African boy soldier. It will break your heart:

If you fancy another book about young people in the thrall of criminals, have a look at this extraordinary story by Philip Gross:

Or you might like to look at this classic by Robert Swindells, where the kids fight back against a protection racket:

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