Author, Book review, crime/thriller, Fiction, literary fiction, London, Picador, Publisher, Setting, Simon Lelic

‘Rupture’ by Simon Lelic


Fiction – hardcover; Picador; 256 pages; 2010. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

What drives a person to murder? That’s the central question underpinning Simon Lelic’s debut novel, Rupture, which looks at the aftermath of a horrendous crime in which a teacher shoots three students and a colleague at a north London school before turning the gun on himself.

Was mild-mannered Samuel Szajkowski (pronounced shy-kov-skee) a psychopath hellbent on killing the teenagers in his charge? Or did something “snap” and his temper get the better of him? Could his deadly actions have been prevented?

It’s down to Detective Inspector Lucia May to find out, although the school headmaster would very much like the case to be wrapped up quickly. Even Lucia’s bosses think it would just be easier to label Szajkowski a “monster” and be done with it:

‘Five people died. All right then. Where did they die?’ He [the chief inspector] looked at Lucia but did not wait for her to answer. ‘In the same room. And how? By the same gun, at the hands of the same gunman. You have a murder weapon, a motive, a room full of witnesses.’ DCI Cole looked at his watch. ‘I’ve got an hour before I’m due to go home. I could write your report and still knock off twenty minutes early.’

But Lucia doesn’t see it like that, particularly as her investigation begins to find evidence of systematic bullying in the school. The question is this: was Szajkowski bullied and if so, by whom? And if the headmaster knew this was going on, why didn’t he do something about it? Doesn’t that make him negligent in his duties?

This line of enquiry has an eerie resonance for Lucia herself, as it becomes apparent that she, too, is being bullied by her male colleagues.

Strikingly original fiction

Rupture is strikingly original fiction, and to pigeon-hole it as a crime novel would not be fair (although I suspect many will give it that label). At times it reminded me very much of Anita Shreve’s Testimony, which charts similar ground, albeit a sex scandal at a private school, in a similar way.

It’s also tempting to compare Rupture with other novels centred on “school shootings” but I think that does Lelic a disservice. That’s because this book tackles the subject from a fresh, new angle. For a start, it’s British (as opposed to American) and the perpetrator is not a student but a “misunderstood” teacher.

The structure, too, is unusual because Lucia’s criminal investigation is interleaved with the varied testimonies of those she interviews. Each of these testimonies is told in distinctive first person narratives, ranging from angry parents, obnoxious teachers and arrogant students. While this is a rather clever device allowing the reader to piece together what happened based on the information as it is revealed, some may find this structure too difficult to follow. I have to say I very much enjoyed it, because it places you directly in Lucia’s shoes and adds to the adrenalin rush as you get closer to finding out what really happened.

Despite the many and varied voices in this book, the characterisation is very strong, particularly Lucia, who is a likable, eager and tenacious investigator, dealing with a host of problems, both in and out of the office, but is slightly out of her depth. You really feel for her situation.

And some of Szajkowski’s colleagues, particularly the arrogant and super-confident physical education teacher, TJ, are wonderfully drawn. It’s only Szajkowski, dead and unable to speak for himself, who feels appropriately aloof and unknowable…

If you’re looking for a thrilling, provocative read, one that will linger in the mind and slightly alter your perspective on the world, then I can recommend Rupture. It’s an impressive debut, and one that marks Lelic as a new British author worth watching.

17 thoughts on “‘Rupture’ by Simon Lelic”

  1. Just gotta comment on the sheer pace of reading and publishing here….
    Gosh, you’re reading one book a day!
    (And reviewing ’em too, of course…)
    Some days I struggle to read a single page.


  2. I actually finished this one about three weeks ago… It’s just taken me forever to write the review.
    Mind you, I’ve been sick this past week, and took two-and-a-half days off work, so I got plenty of reading time in!


  3. Oh you have now made me really, really, really want to read this one. I wasnt sure and now I definitely am. I am going to have to have everything crossed my library bring this one in now. I like your point about everyone labelling this as another school shooting book as it does sound like in many ways its very different.


  4. Simon, theres not much focus on the shooting… the book looks a the events leading up to it and then the events following it, but to label it merely as a school shooting book is a bit short-sighted, I think.
    I found it an entertaining read, despite the fact I put it down at the half-way mark and went off to Oz for almost three weeks, and then came back and finished it, without really losing the thread or momentum of the story.
    The dialogue in it is also spot-on.


  5. I seem to have missed this one, which is unusual for me – sounds worth a read, particularly as I like novels about female detectives. Possibly I did hear about it and the subject-matter put me off, the idea of reading about school shootings is abhorrent to me.
    I hope you feel better now, Kim, sorry that you haven’t been well.
    If you are looking for an intelligent “crime” novel (not really crime), then I am currently reading The Woman from Bratislava by Lief Davidson (orignially written in Danish) recently published by EuroCrime/Arcadia. Totally absorbing.


  6. This is one of those strange books that is hard to pigeon hole: is it crime fiction or literary fiction?
    I know what you mean about the subject being abhorrent, but as Ive just pointed out to Simon in a comment above, it doesnt focus too much on the deed itself — he certainly doesnt glorify the violence. The book is much more about why the event occurred rather than how.
    Thanks for the tip-off about Lief Davidson — must look it up.


  7. I too really enjoyed this one, it was a very new style of writing a crime novel being a whydunnit, and have the witness interviews interspersed throughout, which gradually introduce all the little facts needed to tie up the case. I’d call it a lit-crime novel (just to be awkward!).


  8. Sorry Maxine, forgot to add that this is Picador’s lead title, so with your Pan MacMillan connections you should be able to track down a copy fairy easily, no?


  9. That’s the perfect description for it: a WHY-dunnit, instead of a WHO-dunnit! And yes, it’s probably a lit-crime novel, a bit like John Banville’s Benjamin Black novels.


  10. It is interesting that you compare this book to Testimony. I hadn’t linked the two books before, but now that you mention it I can see that they have a lot in common. I loved this book and agree that Lelic is a writer worth watching.
    It sounds as though I should read some Benjamin Black books too!


  11. I love mysteries and I thought this book seemed different from most so I decided to order it from Amazon. It will be released here in the US under the title ‘A Thousand Cuts’. I shall evaluate the significance of the alternative titles as I read it.


  12. Oh, thanks, Kim. When I looked on Amazon some other publisher was named, but perhaps that was the hardback. I shall do my best to acquire a copy from my good friend at Picador! Thanks for the tip.


  13. LOL! It is a rather horrible title for a book, isn’t it? But I’m not sure what else it could be called… In the US it will be known as “A Thousand Cuts” but I’m not sure that’s any better… although it is less “medical”!


  14. I think the info on Amazon must be totally wrong. My edition is a hardback and has been heavily promoted as Picador’s “lead title”… Anyway, hope you get your hands on a copy and will look forward to reading your review in due course.


  15. I cant figure out the significance of the US title. The UK one is pretty obvious: a “rupture” in one person’s demeanor/sensibilities/sanity resulted in a horrendous crime being committed. Anyway, hope you find it an interesting read…


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