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Written by Conrad Jones — Bryn Williams doesn’t have a lot going for him. He lives on a council estate in Liverpool, both his parents are alcoholics living on benefits, and his neighbourhood is full of dangers. Drugs. Gangs. Prostitutes. But this 14-year-old boy has Alice, his Staffordshire bull terrier, is bright at school, and enjoys boxing at the same club as his older brother, Mark.

His nightmare begins when he takes Alice for a stroll down to a nearby park. When she stops to sniff a fence post and the obese owner of said fence objects, Mark gives him verbals and goes on his way. Trouble is, he was talking to Paulie, whose home is a conduit for drugs and prostitution into the area, and Paulie is run by the Farrell crew. Anthony Farrell, crown prince of the crime family, is at Paulie’s house and it’s fair to say he goes mental. He waylays Bryn, knocks him over, sits on the boy’s chest and starts beating him to a pulp. Alice intervenes by biting Farrell on the leg, and Bryn reaches out, grabs whatever’s to hand, and smacks Anthony across the face.

And hence we have the title of the book, and the key source of conflict. To protect himself, Bryn has killed Anthony Farrell with a brick. Oh dear. Being arrested for the killing will be nothing for him compared to the wrath of Anthony’s father Eddie and brother ‘Junior’.

Bryn’s story is just one thread in an unrelenting and battering storyline, republished here by Bloodhound following Conrad Jones’ own success with it on Amazon. The boy’s intervention upsets a complex series of interactions going on in Liverpool’s gangland, which are adeptly and realistically orchestrated by the author. He paints an extremely hard world where the law can do little in the face of intimidation, bribery, violence, desperation, double-crossing, greed and brutal murder. The unpredictability and ferocity of the main players is scary and yet compelling.

Someone has tortured the Johnson brothers to death, for a start. They’d stolen a shipping container from the wrong people. The Tuckers, who are also brothers, are attempting to import a new drug called zombie into the North West from The Netherlands. The Johnsons’ cousins are looking for the Tuckers, and the Tuckers are looking for their container. One tier up are the Karpovs, a family of Russian vor, who want to monopolise the flow of zombie and maximise profit. The Farrells work for the Karpovs and the Karpovs are not happy when Eddie Farrell’s focus shifts to killing Bryn Williams when he should be trafficking zombie.

The police are involved too, led by DI Braddick, a black detective who’s transferred to Merseyside after an undercover case he was working on went sideways. A witness he was protecting – and with whom he’d fallen in love – was murdered. It weighs heavily on him as he tries his best to protect Bryn, in hospital and later on in custody, from the wrath of the Farrells. The rest of Bryn’s family – his parents, and older brothers Mark and Simon – are forced to go into hiding. Bryn’s solicitor is hit in the face with, yes, another brick.

There are some rough edges to the writing with a fair amount of telling rather than showing, and there are quite a few instances when the confrontations or the emotional moments come off as too cheesy. And yet none of this really has a chance to sink in because the author is a good storyteller, continually delivering new angles for his villains and dangerous swerves for his protagonists. Yes, he lays it on heavy at times, but characters like Bryn and Braddick are developed well enough to be sympathetic and are very much worth rooting for.

This is not a book for the literary-inclined, and it is uneven in places. But it is an exciting and eye-opening example of modern pulp – a very enjoyable distraction set in a tough corner of England. It could easily form the basis of a Brit grit crime drama or become a series. Not everything resolves in the way you might expect when a thriller wraps up, either. Loose ends such as DI Braddick’s larger story arc could easily be expanded upon.

The author has more than 15 books to his name, and an interesting story to tell of his own – he witnessed the IRA bombing of Warrington in 1993. I expect there will be more from Conrad Jones and Bloodhound Books. Whenever the murder weapons include guns, wires, flames, heroin, sharks and a brick, there will be something good in it for crime fiction lovers.

For more of Liverpool’s gangland you’ve got to try The Killing Pool or The House on the Hill by Kevin Sampson.

Bloodhound Books

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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