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by Graham Joyce

Introduction by Rob Grant

(PS publishing, $50.00, limited edition hardcover, 500 numbered and signed copies; also available in signed, numbered, limited edition slipcased hardback; published July 2005.)

Review by Nick Gifford

cover scanA bit of context: TWOC helpfully begins with a definition ("Twoc (twok) slang, abbr, used by police, lawyers, probation officers and other members of judicial services for criminal offence of Taking Without Owner's Consent as distinct from Theft, and usually applied to motoring offence of so-called 'joyriding'"). Not to be confused with Twocking (by Eric Brown, published by Barrington Stoke, in which a distinguished adult genre author writes about joyriding for a teen audience). Simultaneously published on Faber and Faber's children's list, although the only indication on the PS edition that it may be aimed at a younger audience is the back-flap reference to Graham Joyce being "the author of ten adult novels" -- not that it matters, as this is a very adult teen book, or a very teen adult book. And it's bloody good.

That's enough for context.

Remember that line from a non-classic Beatles song, something like "you were in a car crash and you lost your hair"? This is that, only as well as 16 year-old Matt's brother's girlfriend being horribly injured in the crash, Matt's brother Jake is killed. Now, Jake has taken to returning in a variety of costumes (I'm not sure what all the fancy dress really had to do with anything, come to think of it) to hang around outside Matt's twelfth-floor bedroom window and taunt him.

Matt really is screwed up, as are Amy and Gilb, two kids he meets at the local probation office. Joyce does screwed-up teenagers very well indeed, striking the difficult balance between trying to sound "street" and not taking it into the realms of unreadable and instantly dated teen argot. Matt is horribly anguished by what has happened, and his only defence is to try to hide his emotions and tough out every situation; Amy and Gilb are more insightful in their own ways, but both are also deeply-scarred individuals. The three delinquents are thrown together on a rather under-populated Outward Bound trip, where they confront their pasts, and their weaknesses, and have to make tough choices which will affect the rest of their lives. This post-crash story is neatly interleaved with flashbacks to the night of Matt's skunk-fuelled joyriding crash, so that everything builds up to a make-or-break night for all three of them.

It's hard to write a story of redemption where to any external observer the dice are so heavily loaded -- nicking cars and causing death and horrible injuries aren't really very good things to do -- without slipping over into the heavily moralistic and/or the schmaltzy tying up of every loose end of the worst of Hollywood. Joyce is a tightrope walker: he has perfect balance. This is good stuff.

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