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Wednesday, 21 August 2019

‘Born Bad’ by Heather Burnside

Published by Head of Zeus,
4 April 2019.
ISBN 978-1-78954184-7 (PB)

Born Bad is the first book of a trilogy set in downtown Manchester.  Over three periods, 1973/4,1979/80 and 1983/4, we are given a graphic account of the slow deterioration of the lives of two siblings, Adele and Peter, starting when Peter was ten and Adele a year or so older. With an alcoholic and violent father, Tommy, who resents his children’s existence, and a docile, increasing depressed mother, Shirley, the children have a very uncomfortable home life. Shirley becomes increasing dependent on pills and makes little effort to clean the house or feed her family as she not only accepts, but also defends, the constant physical and verbal abuse handed down from her husband.

Adele is a clever child. She helps her mother as much as she can whilst simultaneously trying to keep up with the schoolwork that she believes will eventually provide her with the means to escape from her horrible life.  She also tries to protect Peter who at the age of ten is already showing signs of becoming a sadistic tear-away. There is, not surprisingly, a strong survival bond between the brother and sister as they look out for and lie for each other.  The only bright point in their lives is Grandma Joyce, Shirley’s mother.  She sees what is happening, but other than providing a little love, kind words and occasional small treats for the children, there is little she can do to relieve their misery.  When she becomes ill, even that solace is removed.

As a teenager Peter indulges in petty crimes. After he does a spell in a young offender’s unit his father throws Peter out. He gradually becomes a hardened and fully-fledged criminal, running his own gang and earning a good living from serious and sometimes violent crime.  Adele’s A-level grades are not good enough to get into university, but she joins a solicitor’s office, carries on with her education and sets up house with a partner.  Now and then we see that Adele has inherited her father’s temper, but for the most part she continues to improve her lot and support her mother. With very different lifestyles the brother and sister drift apart.

Eventually something happens that turns all their lives upside down and brings Adele and Peter together again, but you would need to read the book to discover what that is.

Born Bad is well written and is delightfully easy to read.   The descriptions of places and people are grimly realistic, and not always as depressing as the story might lead you to think.  I found the book unusual in that its main purpose seemed to be to provide background and to develop the characters for the next two parts of the story which I haven’t read. However, if you read part one of this trilogy, such is the strength of Heather Burnside’s characters, I think it is more than likely that you will be drawn into reading parts two and three of the trilogy to see what becomes of Adele and Peter in the next decade of their lives. 
Reviewer Angela Crowther
Heather Burnside has been writing since the late 90s when she returned to work following a career break to raise a family. Heather formerly worked in credit control and became a graduate Member of the Institute of Credit Management, but she decided on a complete career change.  After enrolling with the Writers Bureau in Manchester, she gained a writing diploma and had articles published in several popular UK magazines. Heather then set up a writing services company, providing copywriting and proofreading to a range of clients, and ghostwriting a number of non-fiction books.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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