Written by Eileen Wharton — Rose Starling lives a dreadful life. Physically abused by her ex-husband, Joe, she’s raising their three kids on benefits and is barely able to make ends meet, skirting from one problem to the next. But things turn from bad to worse when bits of Joe turn up in various locations and the police, led by DI Savage, seem to believe she’s the main suspect. So do most of her neighbours and all Joe’s family. They never liked Rose, thinking that Joe had married beneath himself, that she trapped him to get his money.
At the same time the crime family running the Newcastle housing estate Rose calls home, the Devlins, keep trying to force her to take various illegal jobs. Rose starts to work for nightclub owner Johnny Milton as a topless waitress to earn some extra money and soon she’s being tempted into an affair. But what about the priest, Patrick, she’s also secretly seeing? And how is a penniless housewife – suffering from acute tiredness and piles – going to prove she’s not the killer?
This is not a story for the faint of heart. It’s got a mixture of the worst possible experiences of being a parent – divorce and problem children – but with domestic abuse and poverty thrown in for good measure. Joe, her ex, was a manipulative, jealous control freak, but was adored by friends and family. He regularly kicked seven shades out of Rose, whilst surrounding her with a nice house, cars and jewels. To all intents and purposes Rose looks like she has a good life, but no-one sees what goes on behind closed doors. These experiences are steadily revealed through flashbacks interspersed through the story. They get grimmer and more violent as the story progresses.
Rose now lives in utter poverty, doing just about anything to feed her kids because she loves them more than anything. The trouble is every step she takes puts her in a slightly worse position. Taking on debt she can’t afford means a visit from collectors, doing one job for the Devlin’s leads to another, and so on. She just can’t seem to break the cycle. Ironically Joe’s murder turns out to be the best thing that happens to her – which says it all about the plot of Shit Happens.
Her friends and neighbours are all criminals of various shades. Some are salt-of-the-earth types who will do anything for Rose, while selling stolen goods. Others are amoral gangsters who will do anything to Rose to get what they want.
It sounds as though it could be terribly disturbing book, but it is very well written and stays on the side of humour. The author manages this by not being too graphic, revealing just enough for a grimace, and throwing in a good dose of fun. It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Rose, who only wants to better herself and her kids, whilst hating Joe. There’s a multitude of great characters too. Savage is a sleaze, Johnny is a decent guy who happens to run a stripclub, Patrick the conflicted priest who’s bitten off more than he can chew, and there’s also Rose’s religious fanatic father. Evil comes in with Joe’s mother and sister, as well as Vera Devlin.
Later in the book the narrative does drift towards being a commentary on Rose’s life and her numerous mounting problems. In doing so, it steers away from matters that relate to the crime. However Shit Happens does hit a satisfying conclusion when all the strands are drawn together in a fashion that makes complete sense. Eileen Wharton is one to watch out for.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars