Until Dunblane, the massacre of school kids and teachers was something the Brits left to the Americans. However, since 1996, although the UK has not experienced anything else quite like that Scottish bloodbath, there have been regular news items about knife crime, gun possession and extreme bullying at schools – with teachers often blamed as politicians align themselves with the parent lobby.
Simon Lelic’s gripping debut is draped in this torn social fabric. It opens with a shy teacher, pushed beyond the limit by his vicious pupils, who pulls a gun at assembly and takes five lives, including his own. Told from the point of view of witnesses and victims’ relatives, taped by the central character, a young policewoman named Lucia, the story unfolds not as a conventional procedural but as a portrait of a broken society: uncommunicative, amoral, atomic, spiteful and psychotically insecure. Lelic adds a parallel narrative about bullying at the police station to underline that the sickness is general and widespread.
The novel might easily have been a trudge through sociology disguised as crime fiction, but we are drawn into the plot by the competing voices, each adding a revealing viewpoint on why things sometimes fall fatally apart. We foresee a potential bestseller for Lelic but, despite the book’s rather pat, pseudo-positive ending, only gloom and despair for modern parents and those doomed to become teachers.