When a teenage couple are found murdered in their car, a boy called Adam Sligo is the only suspect. The letter A is found blazoned on the wall at the murder scene and is soon followed, around town, by the other letters of the alphabet, each immaculately painted in red. What do the letters mean? Is Sligo playing games with the police? Or putting a spell on the town?
Perry Scholes is mixed up in all this from the start: a man haunted by cars and death – and photographic images of both. He trawls the motorways and edgelands listening to police radio, getting to the car-crash or the crime scene before them. He makes a living selling these shots to the papers. He is the one who spots the painted letters, and begins to document their appearances.
As the town is paralysed by fear and paranoia, a vigilante cult emerges, arming itself for the battle against evil. Perry finds himself trapped in a nightmare. A killer is at large, and the alphabetical messages he leaves seem to be personal messages for him.
“Breath” is set in a country recovering from a brutal and divisive civil war between north and south. The war may be over but people’s memories are long and hatreds are slow to fade. A teenage boy, Jamie, is knocked off his bike and dies in a city street. His father, Geoff Andrews, manager of the main hospital, is asked if he will allow one of Jamie’s lungs to be removed and flown north for a transplant. He agrees, and the mercy mission begins: six hours to get the lung out of one body and into another.As the night unfolds, and the plane travels through storms across the war-ravaged country and over the border, we see the drama from three different perspectives: Andrews, grieving for the son he perhaps never knew well enough – this one single death overwhelming, even after the deaths of so many; the lung’s recipient, Baras, an old man fighting for breath, and life – a northerner with blood on his hands; and in the turbulent sky between them, Jude, the young pilot, who is closest to Jamie – or at least to his breath, his spirit, his voice.
A novel about violence and vengeance, and what must take their place, “Breath” is a moving and timely examination of the fractures of war and grief and the long struggle towards peace and reconciliation.