________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 9 . . . . November 2, 2012



Niall Leonard.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2012.
325 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-0-38567928-2.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

*** /4



My dad was dead. He had been sitting at his desk, plugged into the music, and someone had crept up behind him holding his award for Best Newcomer 1992, and hit him over the head with it, and kept hitting him until he died. His eyes were open and his glasses had fallen off. There was blood coming from his mouth and clotting in his beard, and pooling on the table, and he was dead. And the house was empty and silent.

Set in contemporary London, England, Crusher revolves around 17-year-old Finn Maguire who comes home one evening from his fast food job to find his failed-actor/script-writing stepfather, Noel, bludgeoned to death by person or persons unknown. Finn offers readers a description of himself and his stepfather:

I was an illiterate dropout with no GCSEs stuck in a dead-end job, and he was an ex-nobody who spent his days writing a script that would never be finished and that no one would ever want to read anyway.

      Actually, Finn, who has been diagnosed as dyslexic, is more a pushout than a dropout. Some five years previously, Finn's actress mother had deserted her husband and Finn and had gone to America, A despondent Finn had then fallen in with a bad group of friends and had foolishly tried to deal some "found" drugs at school, an act which led to his being expelled and serving three months in youth custody.

      Because his stepfather's laptop and script notes are missing, Finn suspects that the motive for the murder must reside in the unfinished script for a proposed television series, but the two plain-clothes detectives assigned to the case, DI Prendergast and DS Amobi, believe that Finn actually committed the murder. With the two officers playing good cop/bad cop, Prendergast states, "Ninety per cent of the time the person who reports finding a dead body is the murderer....", and he posits that Finn was still dealing drugs, with his fast food counter job being used as a delivery system. Prendergast's theory is that Finn's father found out his stepson was still dealing, an argument then took place, and an angry Finn clubbed his stepfather to death.

      In the taxonomy of the crime literature genre, Crusher would have to be considered a mystery as opposed to a true detective story. Though Finn does behave like an amateur detective in his attempts to solve his stepfather's murder, author Leonard does not supply readers with all the clues that they would need in order to solve the crime before Leonard reveals the killer's identity. In keeping with the mystery format, Leonard offers up numerous suspects who each could have had a motive for killing Noel Maguire, and that list includes Joseph McGovern, aka the Guvnor, who heads up the London mob, James, the Guvnor's lieutenant, Hans, a nosey, mysterious German journalist, Elsa Kendrick, Noel's most recent girlfriend, and Jonno Kendrick, Elsa's jealous estranged husband. Because Noel had been using a thinly disguised version of the Guvnor as the central character in his TV script, Finn targets McGovern as most likely being the murderer. And also in keeping with the character of the mystery, not everything is really as it initially appears, and Finn must deal with his mother Lesley, who shows up shortly after her husband's death claiming that she and Noel were about to reconcile, and then there's Finn's new physical relationship with Zoe who, it turns out, is DI Prendergast's daughter (and more). With only some 30 pages left until the book's final page, Finn appears to have identified who it was who killed his stepfather and why, but then Leonard throws in a delightful plot twist.

      While the book's title, Crusher, is somewhat catchy, its really quite tangential to the book's contents. Readers are informed that, after Finn's first run-in with the law, his stepfather had introduced him to the sport of boxing, and Finn claims, "It was the boxing club that straightened me out." It was also Finn's pugilistic prowess that earned him the nickname "Crusher Maguire". Though the boxing plays no role in the plot, the fact that Finn had learned how to box allows readers to suspend disbelief when Finn must repeatedly physically best a number of adult bad guys over the course of the novel. Coincidence plays a large role in the book's plot, but, as the plot moves so quickly and is filled with so much action, adolescent readers are unlikely to question all of the serendipity.


Dave Jenkinson, CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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