‘The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’
Chapter One. The novel begins. June 1996. A character is trying to decide which knives to choose, and it becomes obvious that he is planning a murder; ‘Something had snapped in him the previous night, in the midst of horror and fear and a thundering, galloping kind of rage. Something within him had snapped, and now lay broken. He could almost feel it if he paused long enough to consider it. It broke his heart but it was true. Something had gone. And now someone had to pay.’
Chapter Two- April 1993. DANNY is thirteen years old. The thorn in his mother (KAY’S) side, (or so she often tells him.) With his older brother, (JOHN) nineteen, they have just moved to a new town. On the run from his mother’s previous boyfriend/turned stalker, they are trying to start again. But Danny worries about the company his beautiful mother attracts. His mother worries about his new, troublesome friends;
MICHAEL, neglected by his parents, brings himself up whilst waiting for his older brother ANTHONY to get out of jail. BILLY and JAKE are along for the ride. Picked on at school for being different; they have joined forces as a gang with Michael as unofficial leader. They seek out trouble, fighting with their enemies at school, drinking and smoking and discovering music together;
“It’s his voice too,” Danny went on, feeling himself in danger of starting a rant, something he had been doing a lot lately where music was concerned. “The quiet verses, I mean, I just want to drown everything out and just hear his voice, and then the loud chorus, the screaming! Fuck, I wish I could make noise like that!”
“You’re right though, this song is enough on its own, enough forever, I mean,I kind of think of it as our song? Me and you and Billy and Jake’s? But the whole album then, every fucking song is a fucking classic.”
With the help of his new friends, Danny wages war on the men his mother bringshome. His behaviour is a constant headache to her. He easily manages to chase off the first man she attracts in the new town. But the next one is different;
He pulled back, but Howard tightened his hold further, so he took a breath, forced his teeth together over his tongue, and said nothing. Howard led him over to where his silver Mercedes was parked. The grip on his arm was growing tighter by the second,and as they reached the car, he gasped and winced, and he knew that he was in trouble all right, and he remembered his face against the table that night, and he felt the panic roaring up inside of him
Danny has his work cut out for him trying to scare off local nightclub owner Lee Howard. He is a man who knows what he wants, and nothing is going to stand in his way. He is a dangerous control freak, addicted to violence, and having power over those who are smaller and weaker than him. When John leaves for University, Danny is forced to deal with the reality that his mothers’ boyfriend is soon to be his step-father, and the man is capable of more than he ever feared. When Anthony tries to intervene, he is set up by Howard and his friend Jack Freeman, and whisked back to prison, and the boys know who is behind it, but how can they prove anything? Danny attempts to protect his friends by keeping the reality of life with Howard away from them. He increasingly relies on alcohol and drugs to help him escape his brutal home life, not realising that Freeman and Howard are pulling all the strings, providing the drugs in a bid to control and manipulate him;
He felt his mouth stuffed full of a million words he knew he would never be able to tell her, because it was all too late, too late. He could always see the shadow of Howard behind her, and he knew that it was all lost, that everything was. He was engulfed in a blackness that showed no signs of releasing him, and he knew that the only way to beat it was to find the man in the baseball cap and buy something else from him, but he was too scared to leave the house.
When Kay is called away to visit her sickly mother for a few weeks, Danny experiences a level of violence and fear that ensure he keeps his mouth shut for a long time to come, in order to protect himself and his friends.
I am going to die, he said to himself, as he helplessly considered the possibility of his organs rupturing, exploding within him under the force of those impossibly hard boots, I’m fourteen and I am going to die, I am going to die on my bedroom floor. He could almost imagine his liver, heart and kidneys under attack with nowhere to hide, nowhere to go.
This is a story about being young, finding yourself in your friends, and your music, the music that is just for you, the music that frames your greatest moments and follows you around like a soundtrack to your life. This is a story about a young boy, who finds himself locking horns with a real life demon, who thrives on control and feeds on fear. A story about tentative, painful first love;
When he reached her, when he finally reached her, he could barely stand or hold himself up anymore. The run from his house had wiped him out. There was nothing left. It was all suddenly too much, far too much, and he half collided into her, and they fell down onto the sand together, and her bag fell from her hand, her bottle of water rolling out from it. Her face was alarmed, and she shook her head, and touched his face and pulled him close. He buried his head in her shoulder, in her hair, and cried like a baby.
From 1993 to 1996, we follow the music and the exploits of Danny and his friends who bounce from one disaster to another. Lee Howard and his drug-dealing sidekick, ex-cop Jack Freeman, a man with a seedy and murky past, are not about to let a gang of scruffy long-haired kids stand in their way;
Trailing the Anderson boys had been amusing for a few months. He still liked to give them the odd scare whenever he could. Drive slowly past them. Ring the house and say nothing. It made him chuckle when he thought about them inside that house, too scared to even skin up, too scared to breathe. He had put the cops on them twice, just to appease Howard. He couldn’t get in the place now; they had double locked all the doors and fitted locks to the windows. Hilarious. It made him choke on his Chinese when he thought about it. Scared shitless they were. Holed up and helpless. One wrong move and you’re slaughtered motherfuckers. Stay in line. That was what it was all about.
Finding himself up against extreme violence, and tangled in the mess of drug and alcohol abuse, things seem bleak for Danny for a while;
Rebirth seemed a nice option, if such a thing existed. He daydreamed about it sometimes, and it seemed a warm and wonderful thought to have. Being born again, as someone else, someone new. Someone better than he was, someone innocent and pure, and strong and good. Sometimes he would look at his skin and feel the urge to scratch away the layers one by one, in case someone better was hidden underneath.
Anthony, when released from prison for the second time, does all he can to help him. He finds out about the disturbing past of Jack Freeman, and the three boys, Michael Anthony and Danny finally make a dramatic getaway to start a new life. Sharing a bedsit with his friends in the next town, and working in a record shop, Danny tries to put the past behind him, but Lee Howard is not about to let him get away that easily;
“Still don’t believe you,” Howard told him, rising to his feet and yanking the kid up with him. He used his body to back him up against the wall. He looked the kid up and down with a sneer. He was bigger than Danny, but he was still no match for him. He was a skinny, wiry, floppy haired little cunt. Howard took his Swiss army knife out from the front of his tight jeans. He flicked out the blade and laughed as the little cunts eyes grew even rounder. He grinned, and then whipped the knife upwards, snatching a handful of the kids hair and hacking at it with the knife. He presented a handful of brown fluff to the horrified face. “Give this to him when you see him,” he said, pressing his face against the boys. “Tell him it’s just the start. Tell him if he doesn’t come back home right now, I’m going to hunt down all his friends, including that pretty girlfriend of his, and I’m going to cut bits off of all of them. Okay?” He stuffed the knife back into his jeans, crushed the cut hair into the boys trembling hands, and let him go. “Tell him that when you see him, okay?” The boy nodded dumbly, his lips quivering, his eyes shining with tears. Howard felt better. He felt refreshed and new. He laughed to himself as he headed back down to where he had to himself as he headed back down to where he had left the car.
In a dramatic climax, Danny realises that he will never be safe or free while Lee Howard breathes the same air as him. After a bitter and violent confrontation during which Howard tries again to regain total control, he snaps, and seeks him out to kill him. The book ends with Danny killing Lee Howard and being arrested for pre-meditated murder. The book finally finishes with an epilogue, which starts with some newspaper articles and letters dated around the time of the arrest and the trial, and then continues to the present day, dated October 2004, eight years after Danny was sentenced to prison. He finds his two closest friends and the girl he loves waiting for him on the outside. Each chapter starts with a quote from a song, from the type of music Danny is into at the time. Some of the quotes have similar themes to the content of the chapter they head, but some are just reflections of his mood and his musical interests. At the start of the book he is heavily into Guns ‘N’ Roses, but is soon swayed by Billy into loving Nirvana, and both boys are devastated at the death of their hero Kurt Cobain in one chapter of the story. As Danny grows older, he develops a love for The Smiths, The Clash, The Doors, Bob Dylan, The Stone Roses and Oasis and many more.
To me, the theme of the book is one of old fashioned good versus evil. It is about young people dealing with almost impossible circumstances, against a gritty working class background. The potential consequences of broken homes and absent fathers is also an important message for me. The question that haunts Danny throughout the story, is should he fight back? Should he stand up for himself and fight fire with fire, or is there another way, a better way? What happens if someone is pushed and pushed until their mind can no longer think rationally? Is it possible to become addicted to violence? Is violence contagious, and able to spread from person to person? This is also a worry for Danny as the story goes on. Will he turn into a monster too?