Deity is a novel born out of my observations of today’s teenagers making the difficult journey towards adulthood. As a teacher in Derby, I see young people trying to balance their dreams against society’s expectations of them to knuckle down and contribute. Growing up is more difficult than ever for teenagers as they are bombarded from all sides with often conflicting information on how to live their lives. The frontal assault of parents, teachers and government pounds them directly but the message is often disheartening – rules for living which provide a straitjacket at odds with the playground world offered by television and the internet.

Instead of a lifetime of work, youngsters are offered a better way by the market makers tapping into adolescent hunger for must-have youth products that convey the status they covet – music, new clothes, the latest phones, games and gadgets.

The words have changed down the years but the message is the same – life is worthless unless you’re moneyed. In the eighties it was I Want It All and I Want It Now. In the new millennium, rapper 50 Cent distilled the youth zeitgeist even further – Get Rich Or Die Trying.

From all media, the young are presented with two alternatives: a fifty-year sentence of drudgery and work against a life of ease and affluence. No contest. And no surprise that our children are obsessed with wealth and celebrity.

But obsession has a flip side to the coin – oblivion. At an age when youngsters are searching for an identity (Who am I? Why am I here?) they are vulnerable to self-destructive urges which manifest themselves in binge drinking, drug-taking, unprotected sex and even suicide.

Stepping into this moment of unique vulnerability, I have imagined a serial killer, Deity, who feeds on the confusion of young people in Derby – a city pleasingly average that can stand in for any part of the country. These children could be yours. Behind their baffling patois and monosyllabic replies to parental enquiry, children countrywide are susceptible to those who can tap into their appetite for self-affirmation. Internet grooming for sex is well-documented. But Deity is a worse nightmare for powerless parents, able to prey on even the brightest teenagers, identify even the smallest chink in their armour and exploit it.

Literally playing God, Deity offers four intelligent, disillusioned college students the fame of their dreams but demands a high price – their lives. How many of us wouldn’t at least have considered such a pact as teenagers, fighting to be heard, to be noticed?

DI Damen Brook knows disillusionment and the urge to self destroy. He develops his own obsession with one of the missing, a troubled eighteen year-old girl who reminds him of his estranged daughter, Terri. Brook determines to save the girl to make up for his previous failure to keep his own child from the clutches of an abuser. But the clock is ticking. Will he find Deity, and his victims, before it’s too late?

DEITY is published by Headline in hardback and ebook on 26 April, and in paperback on 21 June.

Steven Dunne

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