Book #50

Damage by Caitlin Wahrer

Tony has always looked out for his younger brother, Nick. So when he's called to a hospital bed where Nick is lying battered and bruised after a violent sexual assault, his protective instincts flare, and a white-hot rage begins to build.

As a small-town New England lawyer, Tony's wife, Julia, has cases involving kids all the time. When Detective Rice gets assigned to this one, Julia feels they're in good hands. Especially because she senses that Rice, too, understands how things can quickly get complicated. Very complicated.

After all, one moment Nick was having a drink with a handsome stranger; the next, he was at the center of an investigation threatening to tear not only him, but his entire family, apart. And now his attacker, out on bail, is disputing Nick's version of what happened.

As Julia tries to help her brother-in-law, she sees Tony's desire for revenge, to fix things for Nick, getting out of control. Tony is starting to scare her. And before long, she finds herself asking: does she really know what her husband is capable of? Or of what she herself is?

What a rollercoaster. Full of twists and turns, unreliable characters, infuriating red herrings, and a heartbreaking case which impacts everyone close to it. Wahrer’s dedication to her story and characters make it difficult to believe this is a debut novel.

Wahrer focuses on the impact trauma can have on a family. Nick and Tony have always been close brothers, but when Nick is sexually assaulted by a man he meets in a bar, their relationship is tested by the consequences. Nick experiences severe post-traumatic symptoms, and although Tony has always been his protector, wrapping him in cotton wool doesn’t seem to be helping Nick’s recovery. The police investigation, the trial, the immediate bail of the suspect, all contribute to massive levels of stress and tension within the family, which floats irrevocably from the page to the reader.

I can’t remember ever reading a crime novel which deals with male-on-male sexual assault. It was thought-provoking and appalling to read of the stigma which comes with this, and Wahrer does an excellent and delicate job of dealing with this. Nick’s slow recovery is portrayed carefully, subtly highlighting the effects trauma can have on the human mind. Also, we explore the helplessness of family members who, despite being in a hopeless situation, are determined to do simply anything to ease the suffering of their loved ones.

We see differing perspectives and timelines here, which not only reinforce the sheer heartbreak the family is experiencing, but also weave various mysteries and puzzlements throughout the plot. It’s impossible to predict entirely the twist before it comes; you can only adopt small suspicions and try to build on these. The final chapter is a perfect and just ending to what could have been an unjustifiable ending.

I don’t think I’ve been able to explain properly here quite how masterful and engaging this novel is. Wahrer has a true skill for hooking a reader, and staying with you until the bitter end. This is a novel full of real life, of pain and hurt, but also hope and positive progression. A wonderful, wonderful debut.