Van has finished reading…Vigilante by Shelley Harris

31 Mar

Shelley Harris’s Vigilante is a deeply serious book masquerading as entertainment. There’s rich humour in there, genuinely funny moments as well as those which will prompt a wry smile from anyone who has pondered their self-image even a little bit, or found themselves staving off life’s drudgery with a flight of fancy. It’s the seriousness that lingers after the last page though. It’s those crushing moments that are a mix of fear and rage and relief and sadness that bring tears to the eyes. Whether it’s your own kids or those of friends and relatives, whether it’s loved ones that you think of the response is unavoidable: fear that it could happen to them; rage that it might; relief that this is fiction; sadness that we live in a world where this possibility exists. And it’s between that rage and that sadness that the Vigilante lurks in each of us. It’s a credit to the pace of Harris’s prose and the veracity of her characterisation that I really wanted to hurt him, that I was right there in the midst towards the end of the book, and that I felt genuinely angry for a good hour after finishing it. Because we all know someone…

Vigilante is a thoroughly believable book, nothing out of place, nothing extraordinary in the representation. I particularly liked the rendering of the Hero’s (yes, let’s not beat around the bush with a meagre ‘protagonist’) moments of conflict. If you’ve ever practised martial arts, either for self-defence or as a sport, you know how little they can actually protect you. Hollywood miss-sells combat so enormously these days (compare the old musketeers films, circa Finlay, Reid and York with anything recent involving swords and it’s ludicrous – everyone’s born a ninja now) but for it to be effective in a situation it needs to be so entrenched in the muscle memory it needs to have been there for years because it has to get past that debilitating flash of fear that blitzes every sense you have. Or you need to be lucky. It was Judo with me and I did do it for years but I’d been running longer so that usually took precedence. I was lucky once (and my God did I feel alive afterwards!) That said, I’d sign up for Mac’s one-to-one training any day, shouting and all.

One of the things I really love about the characterisation in this book is watching Martha through Jenny’s eyes. All the wanting to ask, the wanting to say but worrying about how and about getting it wrong. And knowing her just by the tilt of her head – beautiful. For me, it feels like that’s where the gold is. That’s where I found that sense of uplifting that meant I could smile once I’d closed the covers, despite all the fear and the anger. Because we all know someone…


The word hero gets thrown around like confetti these days. If you’re a soldier you’re a hero, if you work in medicine you’re a hero, Fire Service, Ambulance, Police, Teacher and so on. There’s no doubt these are all worthy professions with their own distinct challenges and opportunities to make a difference. Ask any one of these people and they’ll tell you they’re just doing their job but that doesn’t diminish the importance of or the pride in what they do. And who doesn’t want to be thought of in some small way as a hero? If you’re a Mother…? Those words, profession, job, suddenly jar. They don’t seem right yet the dedication to the task is so much greater. Vocation, duty, honour? Now try the word Vigilante…not quite the same. There’s something dark about it, something furtive. More a rule-breaker than an upholder of law and order. Imagine seeing every mother as a vigilante. The trouble is that we still think in distinct terms when we think Mother or Father. Times are changing, I think, but there’s rarely a day goes by where a woman isn’t belittled in some way because she’s a woman. You only have to look at press coverage of female politicians to see how far away parity is. And the sadness is that most of it is changeable. It’s a simple case of becoming aware. Making jokes about the colour of someone’s skin, or their sexual orientation is rightly and roundly frowned upon these days, where twenty or even ten years ago people would have found it funny (which might be read as ‘people laughed because that’s what everyone else did’). Hounding someone, openly attacking them because of these things would be scandalous. How long before laughing and pointing, hounding and attacking women ceases to be acceptable?

Now imagine seeing every mother as a hero.

Books like Shelley Harris’s Vigilante aren’t just entertaining, they make a difference too. Vigilante is out now. Find it before it finds you!

Vigilante was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (in paperback) on 3rd March 2016 ISBN:9780735829398

You can find Shelley Harris on Twitter @shelleywriter and on her website,

My thanks to Virginia Woolstencroft at W & N for allowing me to review this book.

One Response to “Van has finished reading…Vigilante by Shelley Harris”


  1. My top five reads of 2016 | vanisreading - 10/01/2017

    […] Paull’s The Bees (which is undoubtedly Mrs Van’s favourite of the year), Shelley Harris’s Vigilante (which is probably Mrs Van’s other favourite of the year), Claire King’s heart-breaking […]

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