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Posted on 13 May 2014 in Crime Scene | 2 comments

Crime Scene: HONEY BROWN Through the Cracks. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

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throughthecracksHoney Brown moves to the city and suburbs for her new thriller, shedding light into some very dark corners.

Psychological thrillers are an interesting reading prospect. Often very confrontational, the best of these sorts of books should generate a definite reaction in the reader. They will also seek to explain, or at least explore, the reasons for the worst – and best – of human behaviour.

Through the Cracks, Honey Brown’s fifth book, explores, challenges, and will confront many readers. But for every scintilla of discomfort that a reader may feel, there is some explanation, understanding and an unexpected sense of hope and kindness:

Adam twitched in fright, looked up. The first man, Billy, was standing in the doorway. ‘Just a hunch, but do you reckon you’d be better off outta here? Splitting might be the best thing for you to do.’

‘I don’t know where to go.’

‘Fair enough, but you might want to go all the same. I think you’re in more shit than you know. Does Joe put you down in that room?’

Adam is a young boy who has been held captive in terrible circumstances. He grows to trust and rely on Billy, who is far from the tormentor he initially seems, and  a distressing connection between them is rapidly revealed.

While the subject matter here is obvious (kidnapping, child sexual and physical abuse and the most appalling exploitation), the handling of all these elements is careful and respectful, somehow making it all the more poignant. The writer’s gentle negotiation of the horrors that the children have endured reminds the reader of the minefield that investigators must go through, hinting at the pain that recall must give rise to. Harking back to the old-fashioned cut-away to the long view when characters kissed in old movies, the lack of specific detail lets the imagination tackle the possibilities – and that’s not a pleasant place to be taken as a reader:

What had happened – the way Joe had treated him, the things he’d done to him – other people might think it was all Adam was, it might be all they saw, but to Adam it was one thing, a single thing, a dark, flat, squashed memory. Billy was right, it was a good thing that Joe had taught him nothing.

For all the darkness, and the sheer difficulty of reading this book (there will be times when many readers will have to put it down and walk away), there is something that compels us to return to it. It’s not just the worry about the long-term prospects of both of the main characters – the two young boys – it’s also a sneaking sense of something positive. It’s nothing unusual in this style of thriller to have two central characters form that sort of supportive ‘us-against-the-rest-of-them’ relationship, but with Billy and Adam there’s not just mutual support, or their shared experience. There’s something about Billy that’s selfless and surprisingly noble, which, combined with the vulnerability and neediness of Adam, means you know something is going to go wrong. The world they now mix in is populated with drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes and fringe-dwellers of all kinds. Not everyone from this world is predatory, though, and the balance between the evil and the good feels very realistic.

For the setting of Through the Cracks Brown has moved from the country to the anonymity of the suburbs and city – unnamed, dark, dirty, slightly depressed. It’s a backdrop for the characters, for the sadness of lives lost, lives never really started, and desperation:

It was a back road. No passing traffic. Across the road was a boarded-up building with rusting machinery parked in a dusty yard alongside big piles of sand and gravel. The bushy hill emerged steeply from behind the last few caravans in the park.

Depending, of course, on your point of view. For somebody whose life has been unimaginable, what should be depressing is seen differently:As far as caravans being places to live went, they struck Adam as perfect – small, thin walls, safe with everyone around you.’

The pace of the storytelling in this book is pitch perfect. As events swirl around the boys, and they get involved, react to circumstances, disengage, and battle through each day, there’s enough time to explain feelings and to draw strong character pictures of both Billy and Adam, as well as many of the people that they encounter – briefly, or as part of their support network. Within those engagements are plenty of explanations for how they both ended up in the house of a predator. No matter how much you know that ‘through the cracks’ means something very terrible, there’s no way you can prepare yourself for the actuality.

And there is no way you’re going to be able to prepare yourself for the final paragraph in this book. No way in this world. Through the Cracks is a tough, tearing, bruising experience, but it fulfils all the requirements of excellent psychological thrillers – it explores, it explains and it casts some light on some very dark corners of humanity, without ever having to resort to voyeurism or exploitation itself.

Honey Brown Through the Cracks Penguin 2014 PB 304pp $29.99

Karen Chisholm blogs from, where she posts book reviews as well as author biographies.

You can buy this book from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.


  1. Brilliant review of a brilliant book, Karen.

    • Thanks Angela – I’ve been staying away from any other comments etc about the book until I could get the review finalised and know roughly when it would be out there. It is an astoundingly good book, so beautifully done. Brown’s structuring is just getting better and better with every book.