Saturday, December 10, 2011

Damaged Goods by Helen Black .

Accused of murdering her junkie mother and abandoned to a children’s home, 14 year old Kelsey Brand is running out of allies. Until childcare lawyer Lilly Valentine enters the picture…

Abandoned by her mother and placed in care, 14-year-old Kelsey - along with her younger sisters - is just another forgotten child of the state. Unable to cope with the care home's harsh regimes, Kelsey attempts to take her own life, leaving her horrifically scarred - and mute. Days later, the body of Kelsey's mother Grace - a known prostitute and heroin addict - is found butchered on a notorious Luton council estate. And Kelsey becomes a suspect.

Enter Lilly Valentine. A tough-talking Yorkshire lawyer with a heart of gold and a will of iron, Lilly has forsaken a glittering career to move south and help vulnerable kids escape the system. Determined to prove Kelsey's innocence, Lilly ventures into the heart of a dark city with as many secrets as problems. Prostitution, paedophilia, drugs and blackmail: Lily must put her own life at risk to save a silent, terrified child and find the real killer.

Damaged Goods is a crime thriller and was Helen Black's first novel. This book was written in 2008 and I purchased the Kindle edition of 520 KB.

Damaged Goods is a gritty novel, for example at location 188...

He removed her grubby underwear, fumbling on the frayed lace, and turned her around to front the camera. He stroked the pale contours of her torso, starting at the hip and snaking upwards. Her breasts were not yet developed, just tiny buds.

...and at location 4602...

A few seconds went by, maybe four, maybe five. Enough time for Miriam to check the room and leave. Enough time to be forced down onto the bed and bled like a halal goat.

...but is very easy to read. There is plenty of drama and this story is very entertaining. The pace is good and you develop doubts about 2 suspects. You wonder if Kelsey is actually guilty or if it is the work of a paedophile. Both characters have motive and circumstantial evidence makes them look guilty to the reader. Lilly meets a wide range of people as this tale develops and you keep guessing which way the story is going. But the search for Grace's killer is hard and Lilly has to cover a lot of ground. Lilly finds out important pieces of information that do not always lead to the killer but you will think for a while that they do. This big trail of discovery and the gaining of intelligence adds great substance to this novel, it is not a padded out story.

There are many plot lines running and it is not just about finding the killer of Grace Brand. There is great social commentary about single mothers, education and the care system, for example at location 5330...

Lilly glowered. ‘They’re not pets, you know. These kids have problems. They set fires, wet themselves and nick anything that’s not nailed down. I’ve one client who likes to masturbate at the dinner table with her chicken nuggets and another who keeps his shit in a shoebox under his bed. A few cuddles and a bedtime story won’t make it all go away.’

...The lead character is Lilly Valentine and the book is centred around her. Lilly leads a full life, she is a busy solicitor and a single mother. Lilly has great humour - for example at location 3714...

Lilly watched the smoke stream out of Candy’s nostrils and wondered if she had ever seen such an unattractive woman.

 , a good attitude and a strong work ethic. She is lonely though and there is a little romance in this book. If Lilly can't get a man then she falls back on chocolate from the fridge! Lilly is a likeable character and I warmed to her very quickly.

Helen's writing style is good and I particularly liked how British it is. Helen includes many local phrases and descriptions , for example at location 3963...

She raced to the bathroom, abandoning her clothes en route. The bath looked smooth and cool but she needed to be on a train in fifteen minutes and the Ferrari was in the garage. She made do with a Glasgow shower and squirted toothpaste onto her tongue.

...and at location 4957...

Lilly disliked his theatrics. As her mum had always said, ‘If a bird shits on your head you don’t stand under the nest and shout.’

...that simply bring this book alive.

The ending is a surprise and does not finish this book off very well. You then look back over the book and realize how many lines of enquiry were wrong and how the Police can be led astray. You then wonder just why the killer murdered Grace in such a brutal way. These questions are not resolved in print and you are left to make your own judgement as to why Grace was killed.

Damaged Goods is a good crime thriller and I shall vote it 4 stars on Good Reads .

I enjoyed reading Damaged Goods and I thought it was very good for a first novel. Helen dedicated this book to her husband Andrew and in the acknowledgements at the end Helen wrote ...

"Then there’s Andrew. Husband, best friend. When I mentioned I might like to write a book you didn’t laugh. You bought me a laptop."

...Well Andrew, I am very pleased you bought Helen that laptop!
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