Woodcutter by Shaun Baines

The book is set against a background of a violent feud between Newcastle gangs. The Dayton gang is under threat from an up-and-coming unit, led by Fairbanks, and one of the sons, Daniel Dayton, who has left this life behind him, is inveigled into returning and becoming involved on the pretext that his daughter, Eisha, who he has previously deserted, is said to be in a coma.

That means he is angry. He already has a quick temper, as well as being 6′ 8″ tall, muscular and attuned to violence from his upbringing. He assumes that Fairbanks is behind his daughter’s condition but he also has little love for his father and brother so violence is meted out on anyone who gets in the way. Daniel doesn’t have it all his own way and seems to be regularly beaten in return. There is a lot of violence in this book, graphic descriptions of torture, stabbings and shootings. The city police are in the pockets of the gang leaders as are local lawyers and doctors so much of the violence is covered up with a general assumption that the bottom of the Tyne is a safe place to lose a body. In order to resolve the plot, a large number of people have to die fairly violently. Daniel survives to leave with his daughter although that requires some lucky escapes so, perhaps, there is some hope at the end.

If you like gangster violence, twisted loyalties and seriously damaged romantic relationships this will be a good read. The Newcastle context provides a different setting and the story romps along, albeit by disposing of several characters on the way. With characters like these, you feel it might be nice to find some element of humanity which would ground them but some of these bad people are just plain bad although, interestingly, Fairbanks turns out at the end to have just had a hard life from which he can’t escape and that’s true of Daniel as well.

Maybe that’s one of the messages of the book to show that this kind of evil is inherited and perpetuated by the system which brings up the next generation to be as sinful as their parents. That’s something which is just about being recognised as a problem in London gangs so the book is on the ball there.

I had a bit of a query about the timing of the novel. In some ways it harks back to the East London of the Kray Brothers and, possibly, this level of corruption would be hard to achieve these days. The drug trade features but may not be as central as it would be now to a successful criminal gang but people seem to have mobile phones although they operate in a cash economy.

But that’s by the way. I’m not sure this is really one for the Book Club but if you’re travelling to Newcastle and thinking about a night out this might be just the story to read on the train!

(I was given a pre-publication copy of this book to review by the publishers, Thistle Publishing. The book will be published in June 2018)


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