Compulsion - Shaun Hutson. Pan Books 2002. First published 2001 by Macmillan.
A gang of kids from an overcrowded council estate is running riot on the streets. Break-ins, car theft, vandalism - these under-age criminals know they can continue without fear of retribution. The neighbourhood police are at their wits' end, while terror, hatred and frustration have become part of life for local residents. Then, just when it seems things can get no worse, the gang turns its full attention on Shelby House, a nearby old people's home.
The supervisor, Veronica (Ronni) Porter, her two staff, and the nine elderly residents in their care become sitting targets as the youngsters mount a hate campaign involving abusive mail, obscene graffiti and shattered windows. As their intimidation escalates, Ronni's own father is drawn into the horror when, disturbed by a burglary inside his own home, he is mercilessly beaten into a coma.
Apparently helpless, and unable to count on police protection, Shelby House's senior citizens make a fateful decision. Summoning up all thir courage and guile, these seemingly easy victims plan their owncampaign of retribution. And when the young thugs launch their most violent attack yet, Ronni finds herself trapped between two equally determined and ruthless forces... in a conflict escalating towards an unimaginable and nightmarish outcome.
'Shaun Hutson has positioned himself as the king of the dark, urban novel' - BIG ISSUE
The hyperbolic back cover blurb above tells some of the story, but there's a bit more to it than that. Hutson described this as Straw Dogs meets One Foot In The Grave and hoped to recreate some of SDs siege suspense within this novel. It's quite a fascinating exercise in manipulation. A quote from a national newspaper at the back is presumably the inspiration, and also quite firmly confirms the exploitative nature. It's difficult to talk about the novel without giving too much away so I'll just briefly mention that, sooner or later, every vigilante has to question whether the violence they use against criminals makes them indistinguishable from whom they're up against (ask Paul Kersey or Harry Calahan). If they don't, some namby-pamby, do-gooding, bleeding heart will. Hutson takes this to quite an extraordinary degree, and in some ways justifies his nothing-left-to-the-imagination descriptions of bloodletting and mutilation. But he's still got a great sense of humour. One chapter begins with a lengthy list of tools being laid out by an old codger (including a nail gun). I was practically rubbing my hands with glee and wondering which acned herbert was going to get which portion of Black and Decker justice. But it was just to help put up bits of wood over smashed windows. Shame! Later however,....