Johnny – or rather, Rabbit, a nickname he has acquired, has moved with his mother to the coast. They need a fresh start after the death of his father – a violent death that Johnny witnessed which has left him struggling to cope mentally. Things seem to be getting better, not least his new friendship with Joe Fludde. Then the dreams start again – dreams of a white horse. And there is violent, dangerous Billy, Joe’s elder brother. As the summer sun beats down the two boys find themselves drawn into a situation where anger, violence, even death, are the norm. Will Rabbit find the strength to confront his own demons as well as the very real demons he now faces?
This is the sequel to We Were Wolves, but the author provides enough information about this past to ensure that it is possible to read Running with Horses without having read the first book. He does this quite lightly; there are no long digressive sections filling in the back story. Rather we learn about it through Rabbit’s thoughts and comments as he, the narrator, draws us into this new episode in his life. It is a very immediate narrative; Rabbit speaks directly to each reader as if to an individual. The effect is immersive.
This is not an action-packed adventure but it is full of drama. Short chapters, direct simple sentences, unaffected vocabulary ensure that the plot moves forward unhindered by unnecessary description. Cockcroft’s artist’s eye informs his prose and his immersive illustrations throughout provide a dramatic counterpoint to the narrative where the boundary between the world and that of the imagination and dream can be thin but is not to be denied. Rabbit’s connection with the natural world, a spirit world, established in the first book, is once again central to the plot. It is an integral part of his character and psychology – it is not a magical talent. There is no fantasy here – just tough reality. While there may be few cliff hangers, the whole is charged with tension and indeed violence, both inferred and at the end, very real. Even the weather contributes to this; a familiar trope but no less effective; the reader can feel the oppressive heat of the sun. Atmosphere and a real sense of environment pervade the whole. At the heart of the novel is the theme of relationships, between family members – father and son, brothers. Friendship and the importance of friendship is a parallel theme. The result is powerful. This is a writer following in the footsteps of writers such as Westall, Brookes and Almond. I hope he will continue on this path bringing to it his own unique style, marrying his art to his words.