“Brotherhood” David Breckler (GWL Publishing) – novel review

Brotherhood David Breckler book cover

Set in Manchester, “Brotherhood” looks at intergenerational and gang loyalty without drawing judgment. Although the gangs here don’t have female members, females are not immune from the fallout of gang rivalries and problems. It starts with Philip taking his friend Liam to a basement of a disused mill. Both are teenaged friends still at college. There they meet college friends Mugisa, Asif, Anthony and Ryan.

Liam is charged with betraying the Jeshi (the gang’s name). He expects a beating. The kangaroo court, led by Mugisa, sentences him to death. Adrenalin, triggered by fear at the sight of Mugisa’s machete, spurs Liam into escaping, but not fast enough to avoid a cut to his ear. Mugisa tells the gang to follow before Liam can tell his uncle (a local gangster) and blames Philip for letting go of Liam’s arm. Mugisa’s intention was to threaten not inflict injury. Anthony, Asif and Mugisa snatch up their bikes and set off after Liam. Philip runs. Unfortunately for Liam and Philip, Mugisa catches up with Liam first, stabs Liam in one of his thighs to disable him and then slices his throat. Philip panics and flees but is pursued by the others. He makes a narrow escape. Mugisa instructs the others to return to the site of Liam’s body. They bundle it into a wheelie bin and abandon it in a derelict house that already stinks of urine and decomposing rubbish. Later one of the gang returns to set the wheelie bin alight.

Detective Chief Inspector Siobhan Fahey of Greater Manchester Police gets the call to the house after two firemen find the wheelie bin and the remains of Liam, plus two bodies upstairs. These two bodies are later identified as drug addicts who’d died from smoke inhalation. The police soon find Liam’s ear and pool of blood in the alley where he was killed but no identification.

Philip fakes illness to get a day off college. His mother, Rebecca, a nurse, says she’ll check on him later. After seeing her husband, a doctor, off to work and Philip’s sisters off to school she goes to work and comes home at lunch time. She finds Ritchie, Liam’s gangster uncle, standing in the driveway and tells him to leave. Ritchie, used to leaving heavy work to others, leaves. Philip knows Ritchie will be back and after his mother’s returned to work, he phones his uncle Byron. Byron, who was in the army and now runs a private security firm, knows Ritchie from schooldays and thinks helping Philip might help heal the rift between him and his brother, Philip’s father.

Meanwhile, Mugisa is mulling over the previous night’s events. His adoptive parents call him Matthew and have given him their surname. However, Mugisa’s friends call him by his African name. Mugisa thinks he can forgive Philip and goes to call on him but Philip shuts the door in his face.

Maria, Liam’s mother, who’d told Ritchie to visit Philip, reports Liam missing. She provides confirmation that the body in the wheelie bin is Liam’s. Now they have an identity, the police start interviewing college students. When they interview Philip, he gives them the gang members’ names. His mother refuses to let the police have the clothes Philip was wearing that night without a warrant. She later washes them, convinced Philip had nothing to do with Liam’s murder. Philip’s girlfriend, Jenna, provides him with an alibi. At this point Philip’s the only member of the gang the police have managed to speak to. After the police leave, Ritchie turns up with two thugs. With realistic timing, Byron turns up just afterwards and despatches the thugs. However, in the melee, Philip escapes. Byron tells Philip’s parents what he knows, i.e. Philip knows who the murderer is and had no direct involvement, but his life is in danger.

Byron is staying with a friend, Adam, who is a firefighter. By posing as a welfare officer from the college, Adam discovers Mugisa is adopted and was a former child soldier. Byron gives Adam a description of the disused mill Philip mentioned and, by process of elimination, they find the building.

Philip’s mother reports him missing and tells the police about Ritchie’s visit. DCI Fahey decides to warn Ritchie against being a vigilante after Ritchie inadvertently reveals his injured ear happened at Philip’s parents’ house, DCI Fahey suspects, correctly, there’s a leak in her force, but doesn’t have time to follow it up. She suspects that Mugisa has coached the gang members because all of them gave the same story about what happened the night of Liam’s murder. However, the police are still compiling evidence and checking for CCTV film and witnesses. She does decide to re-interview Jenna and the other gang members.

Meanwhile, Philip has been tied to a chair in a disused commercial building. Knowing how dangerous Mugisa is, Philip tries to work his bonds loose. Fortunately, Adam and Byron find him. They decide Philip is safer at Adam’s house. Byron hatches a plan to get Ritchie off their backs to free them up to deal with the danger from Mugisa. Mugisa also hatches plan: to visit Philip’s grandmother. Unknown to him, Philip’s grandmother is babysitting Philip’s sisters and Mugisa’s visit is disturbed by Rebecca’s return. In the melee, Mugisa drops his machete but escapes.

Mugisa buys a gun, which he knows how to use, and plans to find Philip and then leave to start a new life somewhere else. Philip sneaks out from Adam’s house to meet Jenna, but Ritchie’s men capture him. Mugisa, who was tailing them, follows. As soon as they discover Philip’s missing, Adam and Byron start searching. Can Byron and Adam get Ritchie to give Philip up before Mugisa gets to him? The chase ends with a shootout at block of flats which are about to be demolished for development.

Interwoven with the fallout from Liam’s murder, is Mugisa’s back story. He was living in an African village and returning home from a post-school game of football when intruders invade his village. He witnesses the rape and murder of his sister and his mother. The intruders round up surviving children, including Mugisa, and take them to a training camp. Mugisa learns to become a soldier and becomes involved in raids on other villages. He tries to escape, but is recaptured. On another raid, he becomes caught in a camp run by Europeans who try to counsel the child soldiers. Mugisa tries to return home but finds his father weakened and his brothers regard him as a nuisance. Realising he can never reintegrate with his family, Mugisa returns to the European camp. He’s brought to England and, after a year’s counselling, is adopted.

By making it clear from the beginning that Philip is a witness and pushing Mugisa’s back story to the fore, readers’ sympathies stay with the main characters. Philip, a boy who’s been dragged into something that’s beyond his experience, and Mugisa, brutalised by his former existence and the effects of that underestimated by his adoptive parents, who foist an English name on him and deny him his African heritage. Before his murder, Liam used to boast about his uncle’s gangster connections and made his uncle sound tougher than he was. In contrast, Philip knows his uncle, Byron, was in the army but doesn’t boast about Byron’s past.

“Brotherhood” is pacey, credible and it’s strength lies in its characters. Philip is engaging: out of his depth but trying to put things right. He’s shocked by Mugisa’s murder of Liam, but also has an understanding of Mugisa’s past, where loyalty was the difference between survival and death. The values behind gang warfare in Manchester aren’t so different.

Byron appears to be the only adult who knows where the limits are: he knows Philip’s out of his depth and he grasps the danger before Philip’s own parents do. Liam’s mother is shocked and grieves but doesn’t seem hugely surprised by Liam’s death. She implicates Phillip to get back at his family, not on grounds of race, but class. Ritchie’s a working class thug and, for all his expensive suits, will never move up to Philip’s parents middle class. Philip’s father is a rare thing: a wheelchair user who’s allowed to simply be. His disability is not part of the plot nor does it provide a ‘triumph over adversity’ story. His wife, Rebecca, is strong and practical as you’d expect from a nurse, and strongly protective of her family. She initially searches for Philip until it becomes clear that’s not practical. In contrast, Mugisa’s adoptive parents, Miriam and Joseph, don’t seek him out when he goes missing and choose to believe him rather than challenge him when they know he’s lying. They passively answer questions from the police without thinking through the implications and never follow up to keep themselves informed about what’s going on. As easily as he entered their lives, their adopted son seems to exit it, long before the final shootout.



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