Book review: Blame by Simon Mayo

So, I stumbled upon this book at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival. Simon Mayo was doing a panel with the legend that is Malorie Blackman and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about a book written by the man who I remember my dad loving on breakfast radio (the Nick Grimshaw of the early 90’s). BUT as soon as I heard him describe the premise behind Blame, I knew I was going to have to read it and I’m so glad I did.

The idea is that a person’s children and/or grandchildren can be held responsible for the crimes they commit (heritage crime). So, if I die before anyone discovers that I spent my whole life stealing from my boss, my children will go to prison in my place. Or if my children are under 18 when the body of my neighbour that insisted on playing death metal at 3am every morning is discovered under my patio, they will serve time with me. Don’t judge me by these examples.

Sound a bit far-fetched? One of the best things about this book is how completely believable the story of how the change in law came about is and how it is placed so completely in the here and now. This isn’t happening in some volcanic, post-apocolyptic other world covered in ice; it is so firmly in the Bristol, Bath and London of today that I had to stop myself from searching the internet for local anti-heritage crime demonstrations to join.

We follow Ant as she unconsciously causes an eruption of violence in the prison complex that her, her adoptive parents and her little brother, Mattie, call home, and witness the mental and physical cruelty they are subjected to whilst on the run from the evil, lying prison govener Grey. Seriously, these kids have had a really bad start to life.

Every time I promised myself I would put this book down at the end of the chapter and cook dinner or do the washing or actually function as a human being, I didn’t. I just NEEDED to know what happened next, it was completely engrossing. My sense of morbid fascination was completely satisfied by the placement – and removal! – of the strap sunken into the skin in the small of prisoners’ backs, turning them into ‘strutters’ (it hurts to slouch). I genuinely felt my pulse racing in fear during the suspense of the prison riot and the televised ceremony at the end (no spoilers!).

Be prepared for a “thrilling roller-coaster of a read” (Malorie Blackman’s words, not mine – and when is she wrong?) that will completely consume you; my other half and I are still debating whether heritage crime could ever really be a thing and I’m seriously considering getting a goose tattoo. Bring on the sequel.

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