Brother and sister Peter and Adele Robinson never stood a chance. Dragged up by an alcoholic, violent father, and a weak, beaten mother, their childhood in Manchester only prepared them for a life of crime and struggle. But Adele is determined to break the mould. She studies hard at school and, inspired by her beloved grandmother Joyce, she finally makes a successful life for herself on her own.
Peter is not so lucky. Getting more and more immersed in the murky world of crime and gangs, his close bonds with Adele gradually loosen until they look set to break altogether.
But old habits die hard, and one devastating night, Adele is forced to confront her violent past. Dragged back into her worst nightmares, there’s only one person she can turn to when her life is on the line – her brother Peter. After all, blood is thicker than water…
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus – Aria in return for an honest review.
‘Born Bad’ is the first book in the ‘Manchester Trilogy’ series, a gritty gangland crime story set in Manchester. I have read this book after reading the other two later books, and so I knew what to expect. It was good to meet Adele and Peter in the early stages of their life, the abuse and lack of care they receive make the people they become in later life.
It’s interesting that different personalities react in diverse ways to their nurturing, or lack of it and the events in this book pave the way for the further books in the series with some surprising twists.
This is a harrowing story. Domestic abuse, neglect and violence are prominent, this is hard to read, but an essential component of this genre. The story is good and well-paced. The characters are complex, flawed and realistic.
If you are looking for a British based, organised crime series, focused on the family, this is a book and series worth reading.
Guest Post – Heather Burnside
One of the themes that feature in Born Bad is mental health. The topic of nature vs nurture interests me and I, therefore, decided to reflect this in the book. Currently, there is a lot of focus in the media on looking after our mental health so I thought it would be an opportune time to explore this issue in Born Bad.
My protagonist, Adele, is affected by mental health in many ways. To start with we hear Adele’s grandmother, Joyce, talking about Adele’s father, Tommy’s, side of the family and their mental health issues. She tells Adele’s mother that Tommy comes from bad blood (hence the title Born Bad) and that he had a mad great-uncle who was always fighting and who ended up in an asylum.
Joyce also worries that Adele’s brother, Peter, might take after Tommy’s side of the family. Joyce is quite insensitive when she refers to the issue of mental health but, when you bear in mind that this was the seventies, her view was typical at that time. Fortunately, the perception of mental health issues has changed a lot since then.
Adele and Peter have a very traumatic childhood and, as the novel progresses, they both behave in a way that wouldn’t be considered normal or rational. Peter’s odd behaviour is first displayed when he is lining up caterpillars and thrashing them with a whip, taking great delight in seeing their damaged bodies.
As he gets older Peter becomes involved in criminal activities in which he doesn’t appear to have a conscience where his victims are concerned. Is this because of his troubled upbringing, because of genetic mental health issues or perhaps a combination of the two?
Adele, on the other hand, does have a conscience and she tries to do the right thing but she is affected by forces that seem to be beyond her control. Again, she could have been driven by an inherent condition or she could be so severely affected by her troubled childhood that she reaches breaking point. Research has shown that both genetics and upbringing can affect a person’s mental health.
Adele’s mother, Shirley, also has her own problems and relies on a diet of pills to get her through each day. However, rather than being seen as a hereditary illness, her mental health issues stem from the stress of being married to a drunken, violent and unfeeling man. Adele sees her as weak but, like her grandmother, her point of view could be the result of poor awareness in the 1970s regarding mental health issues.
Mental health covers a wide spectrum of illnesses with varying levels of severity. The UK mental health charity, Mind, estimates that one in four people in the UK each year experiences a mental health problem. Anxiety and depression are amongst the most common mental health conditions, and while some of these conditions are manageable, they also vary in severity. There are some very serious and debilitating mental health conditions too which can greatly affect a person’s quality of life.
I think we have come a long way in highlighting mental health issues and breaking down the taboos which have previously surrounded the subject. However, we still have some way to go both in educating people about mental health and in providing greater levels of care to those affected.
Extract From Born Bad – Heather Burnside
Oblivious to Deborah’s agonised screams, Adele continued to kick as rage overtook her. It was only the sight of the dinner lady running towards her that brought her to her senses.
Now, as she thought about the incident, she felt remorseful. If only Debby hadn’t decided to do something so daft. If only she could have persuaded her to stop without losing her temper. But Debby hadn’t stopped. She shouted at her a few times, and she still didn’t stop. That’s what she would say in her defence. She had to pull her legs away; it was her only chance.
But did she have to kick her?
Adele was feeling desperate. Oh God, it’s no good, she thought, I’m gonna be in trouble no matter what.
She thought about what her father’s reaction would be if he found out. She dreaded that even more than she dreaded being summoned to see the head teacher.
The sound of the bell interrupted her thoughts. It was the end of the lunch period and Adele entered the school building in a state of trepidation, to the sound of taunting.
‘You’re gonna be in trouble, Adele Robinson, for what you did to Debby.’
‘Yeah,’ added another girl, ‘Miss Goody Two Shoes is gonna get done, haha.’
When Mr Parry announced that she and Debby were to see the head teacher straightaway, Adele felt her stomach sink.
Mr Parry led the two girls down the long corridor towards the head teacher’s office and told them to wait outside while he knocked on the door. After he had been inside for a few minutes, he came back out and asked Debby to go inside. He then lowered his eyes towards Adele and told her to wait there until she was called for. She noticed the look of disappointment on his face and felt ashamed. Then, with nothing further to say, he left her standing outside the head teacher’s office, trembling with fear.
After what seemed like an endless wait, Debby came out of the office and looked away from Adele as she walked past her.
‘Next!’ shouted Miss Marchant.
Adele was already in tears by the time she entered the office and presented herself at the other side of the head teacher’s large desk.
‘Now then, what have you been up to?’ asked Miss Marchant.
‘I… I… I didn’t mean it,’ muttered Adele.
‘Didn’t mean what? And for heaven’s sake, speak up, young lady.’
‘I didn’t mean to hurt Debby,’ Adele sobbed.
‘Well, from what I’ve been told, you’ve got a bit of a temper, haven’t you young lady?’
Adele, by now very tearful, nodded in response.
‘I can’t hear you!’ thundered Miss Marchant.
‘Yes,’ Adele replied.
‘Yes, Miss Marchant.’
Adele was so worked up that she thought she would vomit at any minute. To her surprise, just when she reached the point where she felt she might faint, the head teacher seemed to relent.
‘Well, Miss Robinson, although I don’t condone your behaviour in the playground, I have received glowing reports from your class teacher. So, I’m going to let the matter rest on this occasion. However, I would suggest that in future you keep that temper of yours well under wraps.’
‘Yes Miss,’ answered Adele.
‘You may go.’
Adele quickly made for the door, feeling a mixture of relief and shame, but before she could get to the other side, she was stopped by Miss Marchant’s stern tones.
‘And if I ever hear of any repeat of this behaviour, you will be punished severely!’
‘Yes Miss,’ Adele replied as she dashed from the office.
Anxious to be away from the head teacher’s office as soon as possible, Adele rushed down the corridor and into her classroom.
Mr Parry raised his eyes from the papers on his desk and abruptly ordered Adele to sit down in the vacant seat next to Tony Lord, who had a reputation for being the best fighter in the school.
As Adele felt everyone’s eyes on her, a tear escaped from her eye. She was greeted by a barrage of questions from the other children sitting at the table. Adele’s feelings of guilt and shame made her shy away from their questions, even though she could tell they were impressed that she’d beaten Debby up.
‘Why are you crying if you won the fight?’ asked Tony, puzzled.
‘Don’t know,’ muttered Adele, dipping her head.
Read my reviews of Blood Ties and Vendetta, the other books in the series.
Heather Burnside spent her teenage years on one of the toughest estates in Manchester and she draws heavily on this background as the setting for many of her novels. After taking a career break to raise two children Heather enrolled on a creative writing course. Heather now works full-time on her novels from her home in Manchester, which she shares with her two grown-up children. Twitter Facebook