The Prodigal by Nicky Black is not the sort of book I normally read. Quite honestly, I have been missing out. This is a local book for me, being set in a fictional estate just outside the centre of Newcastle. It is a disturbing read, of domestic violence, drugs and danger on an estate that offers little hope for its residents. There is a uneasy picture of a local police force personified as less than enthusiastic, less than willing to look at the real people involved on the estate. In the centre of this book is a relationship between two people out of their depth in their situation, and some of the effects their relationship has on others.
The romance in this novel emerges as rushed but realistic in a relationship in the wrong place at the wrong time. The characters are depicted as showing the pain, fear and effects of the hatred around them. There is a fight near the start of the novel which seems to be accepted as yet another event which does not surprise, does not alarm the locals. It is a fight which nobody wins, but has an effect on several of those present and involved.
Lee is a police officer who grew up in the area, but moved away partly as a result of a difficult family background. Now a recently promoted officer, he moves back partly because he has an ambition to make a difference to those now struggling in the area he knew well. He also has unfinished business as he has come back to find the girlfriend he once abandoned, and the teenage daughter he has never known. He is of the place but has also grown away from it, not realising that the years have not been kind or positive in his absence. Nicola has seen the worse and perhaps the best; her family situation is complicated and ultimately terrifying. In another life they could be together, but there are so many people between them. Both are fighting forces, some of their own making, which threaten them as individuals and together. They seem to be frustrated at every turn, not just by petty squabbles but real dangers.
I do not think this is meant to be an enjoyable book, or a literary one. It is gripping and feels realistic. I found it easy to read, even if the events within it are tough to deal with. Apparently this novel has its roots in a proposed tv series, and it feels a very visual book. It does not go off into purple passages, and is all the better for it. It reminded me strongly of Crusaders by Richard T. Kelly which I read several years ago.
This is not surprising in that it deals with similar themes in an similar setting, but The Prodigal is a much more straightforward, much more straightforward book.I read The Prodigal on screen, which made it feel different. I would suggest that this book is a great read if you are looking for the gritty, the straightforward and a good regional read. It is disturbing, realistic and a little frightening, consistent and well expressed. Ends are tied up, people behave consistently, and I would recommend this book.