Book review: Blood Road by Caspar Walsh

He might be a career criminal but Nick Geneva is mortified when he accidentally kills a guard dog during a house raid.

By Pam Norfolk
Wednesday, 12th January 2011, 6:00 am

What he doesn’t know is that he’s now on the wrong side of a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to track him down.

This intense, gritty and mightily impressive debut thriller comes from the pen of a former crook who, by his own admission, dragged himself out of the gutter to use his experiences as a warning to others.

Walsh first came to the attention of the literary world with his acclaimed autobiography Criminal in which he documented his wild childhood and his boundless affection for his roguish but loving father who killed himself after a lifetime of crime and prison.

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Blood Road is a semi-autobiographical novel which explores the fine line between fact and fiction and provides a moving and revealing account of what it is like to be the son of a criminal and still seek to exist on the right side of the law.

Nick Geneva’s time as professional house-breaker is fast running out...he’s tired of constantly looking over his shoulder and longs to live a quiet life in the wilds of Scotland or Wales.

The one thing that keeps him in London is his love for his two sons, 15-year-old Jake and younger brother Zeb, so he carries on working at the only ‘job’ he’s ever known and risks getting busted every day.

But his life takes its most dangerous turn yet when he and partner in crime, Warren Sykes, break into the home of drugs dealer Vincent Cracknel and cause the death of his ageing bull terrier Jasper.

Cracknel, a middle-aged former boxer and gangster, is incensed and sets out on a terrifying mission to track down the two burglars. Payback for his beloved old dog is going to require more than just an apology.

When Sykes is arrested, Nick knows it’s only a matter of time before the police come for him too, so he packs his boys into his old car and heads for one of his favourite places, Snowdonia.

Naturally Jake’s not happy about being whisked off into the night. ‘Why don’t you get a proper job like all the other dads?’ he asks.

Jake is no angel himself but he’s getting tired of his dad always being ‘stoned’, always on the run from someone and always lying to them.

As Cracknel and his bent copper friend move in on the three fugitives, the terrifying search for a safe place to hide will be a journey of self-discovery for Nick and a rite of passage for his two sons.

Walsh draws his characters with loving care and precision, whether it’s the reckless, easy violence of arch-villain Cracknel or the vulnerable and brash machismo of the adolescent Jake.

He peppers his brutally honest and sometimes bloody story with dark humour and painful insight, and never lets us forget that his extraordinary novel is only one small step from real life.

A remarkable book from a writer who has a message worth listening to.

(Headline, paperback, £7.99)