The Hobeck drawbridge is up. Submissions are closed. Our stable of authors, is, for now at least, replete. At least this was my attitude when Rebecca reminded me that we still had some manuscripts to look at that we’d collectively shoved down the back of the sofa.
‘This had better be good,’ I muttered, my middle-age humph reflex kicking in.
‘We’ve kept this author waiting too long,’ Rebecca replied. ‘We owe her an answer.’
I transferred Jennie Ensor’s manuscript for Silenced to my Kindle app, found a quiet corner and began to read. I was hooked within a handful of pages. I devoured the novel. The final half of the book raced by, and other aspects of life took a back seat. Silenced is a coruscating, heart-breaking tale of two teenagers sliding into the grip of gang culture and violence. An all-too realistic slide into an urban Danté-like hell where the desire to keep face can lead you to lose your life.
Jennie presents the narrative from three points of view. There’s Luke, a bright 16 year old with academic potential but grieving the death of his mother from cancer. He can’t focus anymore. His relationship with his guardian is strained. Even the assistance offered by an inspirational English teacher works against him as rumours circulate around school that there’s more to their relationship than is allowed. All lies, but the taunts keep coming.
Then there’s Jez, approaching her 16th birthday and new to Luke’s school after exclusion from her previous one. Her mother is an alcoholic, her father absent. Their house in Muswell Hill might cover three floors, but the cupboards are bare. Is it a surprise then that Jez falls into a relationship with one of the most violent members of a notorious North London gang, the Skull Crew?
Finally, there’s Callum Waverley – DI with one of the Met’s major incident teams – and taking the lead in the investigation of the murder of a young girl on her way home from school; stabbed through the heart with a gigantic zombie knife. The Skull Crew are the obvious suspects, but no one on the estate will talk, fearing the consequences they’ll face if they speak to the police. The investigation is heading nowhere, and to add to Callum’s issues, his wife has left him and his teenage son isn’t communicating.
Each character’s voice is authentic, vibrant and compelling. You root for them all, even as their lives unravel and they make moral choices we disapprove of. Jennie captures the way that seemingly small moments and events can have devastating consequences for the characters, and everyone around them. It reminded me of the best of Jimmy McGovern’s work; the dialogue sizzles with authenticity, and the tension almost suffocates as you read.
This is a dark, gritty world, but utterly believable. Luke and Jez’s relationship is both touching and tortured, Romeo and Juliet for the 21st century. They are failed by those they rely on, and seduced by the false glamour of gang life. Loyalty is demanded and enforced by fear of both violence and the potential loss of reputation – a toxic combination.
In short, I loved Silenced. It moved me profoundly. The drawbridge came crashing down, and we’re delighted that Jennie has chosen Hobeck to publish this profound and important novel. It is brave and brilliant, and I’m sure when we release Silenced in December, you will feel the same way as we do.