Luke Murray is minding his own business on a Manchester bus when three chavs start calling him racist names, threatening and hitting him. For fellow passenger, Emma, the situation is paralysing, naturally shy, she is scared to intervene but also knows what’s happening is wrong. She wills someone else on the bus to do something. When Jason Barnes comes down the stairs to get off the bus, he sees what’s going on and tries to put a stop. When the doors open Luke, and his tormenters, make a run for it with Jason in pursuit. The fight ends up on Jason’s doorstep, where his mother Val, stands aghast as Luke is beaten into a coma and her bright, brave son is stabbed.

Split Second follows the aftermath of a senseless, fatal stabbing and a fight which leaves Luke in a coma. Where most crime novels focus on the investigation, Staincliffe takes a close look at the lives that are ruined by violent crime, not just the parents but the witnesses, the ones who feel guilt for not doing anything more.

Louise Murray, is a single parent, with mixed race kids who she is incredibly proud of but cause others to make rash judgements about her. Luke is painted as a trouble maker by the press but in reality was like so many other teenage boys, just struggling to get by at school and in a world that isn’t always fair. His sister, Ruby, is a wonderfully talented girl who adds some hope to a story which would otherwise be incredibly depressing.

Emma’s story is one that must be so, so common yet never told. How many times have you sat on public transport and tried to avoid the trouble breaking out, the groups of teens that can go from having a laugh to threatening in seconds. For most of us nothing awful happens but what if it did? What if you never stepped in because you were scared and someone dies because of your cowardice? Emma isn’t painted as a coward even though she feels like it. She is an outcast, painfully shy at times and has battled with poor self-image. Her father is verbally cruel, forever putting her down but he’s her dad, she’s meant to love him, and vice versa. Emma perhaps is the character that can make the most of the awful events.

Andrew and Val Barnes tell a story not unfamiliar to couples who have lost a child. How can they carry on being normal when their son is dead? Can their marriage hold out? Andrew is at times consumed with anger, aimed at no one and everything.

As with The Kindest Thing, Staincliffe tackles a difficult subject with both emotion and rational thought. It might be lacking in action or complicated investigations but it is real and raw. Needing to know that the characters will be OK mentally is gripping enough without needless events. Heartbreaking yet tinged with hope, the best crime I’ve read this year.

Split Second is published by Robinson, an imprint of Constable & Robinson, and will be available in paperback from 19th July 2012. If you can’t wait it is currently available in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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