Do you ever get love at first sight with books, just from the blurb? This is what I had with This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman, then Isabella at Belgravia Books was kind enough to send me out a copy to read and review! So grateful because it wasn’t just book lust, This Mortal Boy was 100% the book for me and I would highly recommend it to readers who love non-fiction draped in the cloths of fiction.
This Mortal Boy is available two day in ebook format that can be pre-ordered / purchased here, whereas if you love a good paperback you can pre-order here for the 1st of August! You can also have a nose at an extract from the first chapter!
An utterly compelling recreation of the events that led to one of the last executions in New Zealand.
Albert Black, known as the ‘jukebox killer’, was only twenty when he was convicted of murdering another young man in a fight at a milk bar in Auckland on 26 July 1955. His crime fuelled growing moral panic about teenagers, and he was to hang less than five months later, the second-to-last person to be executed in New Zealand.
But what really happened? Was this a love crime, was it a sign of juvenile delinquency? Or was this dark episode in our recent history more about our society’s reaction to outsiders?
Fiona Kidman’s powerful novel explores the controversial topic of the death penalty with characteristic empathy and a probing eye for injustice.
*Let the rambling commence!*
I have no clue where to start with this one, the themes included in the novel are highly sobering and heart-breaking in equal measures. Fiona Kidman has created a storyline that has taken a non – fictional backbone of the ‘Jukebox Killer’ and veiled it with a tasteful fictional story, while tackling the empathetic theme that is the death penalty. The main protagonist of This Mortal Boy takes place in 1955, where Albert (aka Paddy) Black, an Irish lad has emigrated from his family home in Belfast, Ireland to Auckland, New Zealand during a time of violence and teen rebellion. The focus of the narrative is on the tail spin of the murder of Alan Jacques, where Paddy has been found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
What’s different about this book? I hear you ask, well the way that This Mortal Boy has been penned is from the defendant and his family’s point of view. During a trial and sentencing, the focus and sympathy is aimed at the victim but within this novel we see the rippling affects on the parents, especially the mother of Paddy as well as himself. The dialogue is extremely emotive and thought provoking when it comes to the minute details of the trial, evidence and sentence. The court information included in the book is non – fictional and quite harrowing especially when the act of murder itself is touched upon and the events that led up to it. To me, it felt that due to Paddy being a ‘outsider’ the judge and jury had already decided that he was guilty of murder before they had heard the evidence. This felt like a stab to the gut because a mother lost her son because of plain prejudice – extremely humanising and eye opening.
The events begins to unravel from page one, where we get to know Paddy as a family man, who is kind, thoughtful with a super strong bond with his youngest brother, he completely dotes on him. The pace build to a attentive climax that tissues will be 100% needed for. I found This Mortal Boy is a captivating, heart strings tugging novel that makes you ponder whether two wrongs make a right? When reading about the circumstances of Paddy’s execution, it makes you see the flip side of the picture, not just the victim’s side where you can’t help but whole-heartingly sympathise. The sequence of events are unchronological as it flips between the multiple point of views but it really works because you get to see the development from all corners. The information, court documents and accounts included drives a path straight to what seems like an a miscarriage of justice, which I can’t help but agree with. Was paddy on trial for murder, or nearly because he wasn’t a New Zealand born individual? What I didn’t realise until I fell down a Twitter sized hole, was that Fiona Kidman is actually working to overturn this conviction which is amazing!
Fiona has sensitively approached the subject of the death penalty, although I did surf many waves of emotion but mainly I was frustrated about what Paddy endured as well as his parents turmoil that they couldn’t reach him. The timeline that This Mortal Boy spans is from 1953 to 1955, during this time we had an insight into the inner workings of his family life, as well as the turbulent ordeal that lead to both Jacques’ and Paddy’s deaths. Overall this is an interesting read that I would highly recommend to lovers of fictional non – fiction, as well as reading around the subject afterwards. Completely broke my heart, this book will stay will me for a really long time – it’s beautifully and sensitively written. Truly loved it.
When you read this book, please hit me up because I really need to discuss this bookish treasure!