From the beginning of the novel, the cover, The Breaking of Liam Glass by Charles Harris presents an unrelenting series of double (maybe triple) meanings along with wry, dark, and tongue-in-cheek humorous observations on daily life. It is not just that daily life is humdrum, boring routine; it is a set of circumstances that we have to get through. Jason reflects on great truths such as these as he seeks a break-out story that he can use in his career as a tabloid journalist. He needs to find something that will allow his career to soar. So far his lot has been to report the mundane while employed on what might be called a D-list tabloid. He aspires to international recognition on a well-known and widely circulated A (or at least B) publication. His reflections tend to the grandiose “For every great prophet whose chariot rose into the heavens there were a thousand little people who got crushed under the wheels.” (p. 338). Jason wanted to be that prophet.
London has come to be known for its great diversity with its multicultural neighborhoods. This is Jason’s news beat, a place where he can campaign for social reform through his carefully orchestrated stories. Stories are shaped to emphasize the sensational. Jason doesn’t really lie or report “fake news.” He might not tell all of the truth sometimes but he gets the exciting stuff out there. “What about lying by omission?” a person in the audience of a news briefing might ask. Jason wouldn’t call on him to ask a question and wouldn’t answer the question if it were asked of him. But Jason was honest, at least until the Liam Glass case happened. Then Jason saw an opportunity to do something for the greater good. There was just one small deception that had to play out.
Liam Glass was going to an ATM to get some cash for Katrina, his mom, in order to pay the pizza delivery person who was soon to arrive. Liam had a favorite ATM but it didn’t work that night. Liam had to use one that was more secluded and not well covered by surveillance cameras. It was covered by two persons of unidentified nationality who decided that Liam’s money was their money. They stabbed him while taking it. Liam was severely injured and taken to a hospital. We will hear occasionally about Liam but we will not hear from him for the rest of the novel.
This is a novel about all the people around Liam who come to know about his situation through various means. Liam may be out and in a coma but the ripple effect from the incident will be revealed through the characters who try to take advantage of what happened to Liam to further their own interests. Even mother Katrina is not totally innocent. This disregard for the person of Liam creates the dark mood for the entire novel. Liam is definitely on his own.
For a person from the US, the word “estate” brings to mind something luxurious and grand. Liam lived in an estate which is described as a cinder block building with dank walls. After collecting a debit card from Katrina, his mom, he set out for the ATM and along the way passed a neighborhood gym. Owners Royland and Sade were still working. Royland was doing the physical set up tasks while Sade was working on accounts and noted that they would soon be out of business. But not before Liam got stabbed. And not before Royland and Sade found the knife that was used to stab Liam. Not wanting to get involved, Sade convinced Royland to throw it over a fence. The delay this action caused the police, the moral anguish felt by Royland at not going directly to the police and Royland’s relationship with his controlling wife run throughout the story.
As Liam got closer to the ATM, he stepped into the road in front of Jamilah Hasan, a low-level political councilor with little to no power. Not only did no one pay attention to her speeches, she was becoming bored with hearing her own voice. She had no real power to do anything to help her local constituents; she had no money to disburse in support of local projects and frequently had to announce the closing of what community projects there were. Her pressing on to bring diverse ethnic groups together gave her an expertise in making speeches which said almost nothing. Unfortunately for her, voters knew it. She needed an issue to excite the imagination of her voters, one that would raise funds as well.
Lastly, Liam passed Jason Crowthorne, an intrepid tabloid reporter without a cause. He didn’t know it as he passed Liam, but the cause had arrived. Once Liam’s body was discovered and taken to the hospital, Jason thought of a series of short stories about Liam that would lead to a national campaign against knives. It all started with Liam’s story but there was a problem. It was rumored that Liam had a famous Football Club Player for a father. Katrina refused to tell anyone who Liam’s father was. Jason needed to fix this problem one way or the other. Ethics could not get in the way.
Jamilah could push the campaign from a political point of view. Royland and Sade might be involved in community outreach centers that would include their gym. Andy, a detective friend of Jason’s would be able to solve the newly created high-profile case and advance his career. It looked like a win-win situation for all.
But that is not what happened. A high profile case brought out the best (worst?) leaders of different ethnic factions. There were meetings where audience shouting drowned out all speakers. The favorite weapon of choice was a thrown chair. That was only when meetings took place, frequent cancellations were the norm.
The story has many twists and turns that are entertainingly presented by the several characters. For me, it is the humor that puts this novel on the top of my rating chain. To fully appreciate the humor, read closely. The laughs, grins, and chuckles are the reward.