|A Case of Wild
by Yvonne Jerrold
Review by Harry Goode, Secretary Cambridge Writers
The world is divided into the punishers and those who believe that we can solve crime and bad behaviour by uncovering and treating what they call “root causes”. It does not prove either easy or uncontroversial to uncover exactly what these “root causes” are, nor to decide how to treat them. Moreover, over time we can shift from one view to the other. Sometimes we can shift back and forth.
A Case of Wild Justice? is about a group of old people in a Cambridgeshire village who, heartily sick of being bullied by local youths, decide to draw a lesson from the 9/11 bombers and become “silver bees”. Wearing explosive vests or lethal gaudy hats they await the next attack. They now pack a sting.
Potentially this is an implausible (if clever) plot line, but the strength of characterization is such that it does not strike us as such. Hannah, who is terminally ill, suspects that her enigmatic teenage grandson, Billy, is the éminence grise behind a spate of muggings, burglaries, assaults and even a rape that are troubling the village. At the start of the story Billy is in a youth detention centre, but it seems likely he will be released soon. What should Hannah do?
Yvonne Jerrold is skillful enough writer to leave a considerable margin of doubt as to Billy’s real nature. There is a suggestion that Billy’s troubles (or, if you are in that camp, the troubles he gives others) are a kind of original sin: the faults of the fathers (or in this case, possibly the grandfather) being visited on the sons.
At times the writing is very beautiful. When Hannah, near the end of the novel, rejects the suicide plan she had made and decides to live as long as she can, her reflections in her garden reminded me of Satan’s awe at the Garden of Eden in Milton. I won’t tell you what happens next.
Right to the end, the tension between the two views is kept up. “I wish everybody would stop blaming everyone else,” says Hannah’s wise young granddaughter, Helen. This book made me reflect on my own attitudes to menaces in my community. I am not yet ready to join the “silver bees”.
Harry Goode, Secretary Cambridge Writers
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