50 Shades of Teen Noir: Niall Leonard’s Crusher
In Crusher, Leonard brings to bear a landscape of heroes who become villains, cops on the take, dangerous damsels in distress and at least one ruthless killer with a heart of gold -- a joyous hearkening to the fiction of Alistair MacLean or Irvine Welsh for the teenage set.
Leonard invokes the London underworld through Finn, a dyslexic teen raised by his caring (if habitually unemployed and intoxicated) stepfather. When Finn finds him bludgeoned to death in the midst of writing a docu-drama about a notoriously violent gangster, Joseph “Guvnor” McGovern, Finn begins to suspect that perhaps the fiction his father was researching had become all too real.
But Finn is a survivor. Having suffered early abandonment by his mother, incompetence on his father’s end, dyslexia in the classroom, and a juvenile record for drug distribution, Finn is teen fiction’s most unlikely hero. Despite his challenges, however, he slowly begins to unravel the mystery of his father’s death as he infiltrates the Guvnor’s operation.
Suspects in the brutal slaying include his stepfather’s secret girlfriend (who seems overeager to assuage Finn’s grief), a manic pixie dream girl whose timing is suspicious, London’s most feared mobster, and even Finn’s biological mother, who has oddly reappeared after the funeral. This colorful ensemble lays the backdrop for Finn’s odyssey as he stumbles in and out of trouble with law enforcement, hardened criminals, and his own past in a tale that speaks to Leonard’s pedigree writing and directing films for the big screen.
Crusher succeeds as a thriller not only due to careful plotting and accelerated pacing, but because it takes a teen’s worst fear -- the fear of suddenly being left alone in the world -- and uses that as the starting point for a riveting murder mystery.
The fiction of Niall Leonard -- replete with shadowy henchman, alternate agendas and hidden pasts -- is not to be missed for those who enjoy escaping into the London underworld that is so often depicted in the films of Guy Ritchie or Danny Boyle. Finally, the British gangster genre comes to young adult fiction!