Stone Cold (Swindells novel)

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Stone Cold
Stone Cold cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorRobert Swindells
Cover artistPaul Hunt
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreYoung adult fiction, realist novel, horror
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages132 pp (first edition)

Stone Cold is a realistic young-adult novel by Robert Swindells, published by Heinemann in 1993. Set on the streets of London, the first-person narrative switches between Link, a newly-homeless sixteen-year-old adjusting to his situation, and Shelter, an ex-army officer scorned after being dismissed from his job, supposedly on 'medical grounds'.

Swindells won the annual Carnegie Medal recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject[1]

WorldCat-participating libraries report holding Danish, German, Catalan, Vasc, Slovenian and Korean editions.[2]


The story takes place from the perspective of Link and Shelter and set in the 20th century. Shelter's chapters are designated by Daily Routine Orders. Both characters have names by which they prefer to be called, Link (protagonist) and Shelter (antagonist), and their birth names are not revealed.

Link was saddened when his father abandons his family for a receptionist when he was 14. Two years later, his mother, who was always a housewife, got a new partner, whom Link nicknamed "Old Vince". Vince is in his 50s. In the midst of a mid-life crisis, he is incredibly harsh. Link and his older sister, Carole, do not get along with him, and his mother is too shy to pacify the situation. Carole moved out after a fight with Vince and started living with her boyfriend, Chris. Link, after getting five GCSEs, dropped out of school, left home due to Vince, and ended up with no place of refuge.

He lingered for some time on the streets of Bradford, occasionally sleeping on his sister's couch, to the irritation of her boyfriend. However, the close-knit nature of his community in Bradford, Link found that living with his sister there was humiliating, and after an argument with Vince at Christmas, he decided to sneak off to London to start a new life. Carole, was the only person who knew the plan, and she gave him money and saw him off at the station.

In London, he is in the London Borough of Camden, when he sees an advertisement for a small bedsit and thinks he is in luck. He soon finds that the landlord, known as "Rat face," is an unpleasant man who forces him to pay an extortionate deposit that blows almost all of the money he has left, musing in hindsight that he would have been better off going to the YMCA. Despite his best efforts, he is unable to find a job in London, mostly because of his lack of qualifications, and his scruffy, unironed clothes and tramp-like appearance do him no favours in job interviews. Unable to pay his rent for a second week, he is evicted and once again rendered homeless. On his first night, he is forced from a comfortable doorway and has his watch stolen by another homeless man, known only as "the Scouser".

While scouting for a new place to sleep, he meets Ginger (so called because of his red hair, and, like Link, his birth name is unknown) with whom he becomes friends. The two of them decide to pull together, and Ginger shows Link how to survive on the streets. They go out every day and beg and spend their nights in doorways. When they save up enough money, they are able to spend a night at the place of Captain Hook whose real name is Probyn, who provides some old, stripped-out canal boats for homeless people to sleep, at three pounds a night. However, one day, Ginger leaves Link for a while because he wants to have a geeze at something with his friends but does not return. Link is crushed. While having a cup of coffee at a kebab shop near where Ginger left him, he meets Gail, a Scottish girl of a similar age, who has apparently run away from home like him. Though Link fancies her, he has suffered too many disappointments in his life to want to try anything with her so he gets up to leave. To his surprise, Gail gets agitated and begs him not to leave. Reasoning that she is, like him, frightened of being homeless and in need of the help that Ginger gave him, Link takes her under his wing, but it is clear that he is in love with her. They spend time together.

Meanwhile, former British Army veteran Shelter, who is 47, plans to clean up the streets of London by removing the homeless. Shelter spent many years working in the Army and trained young recruits into soldiers. However, he was suspended from office for unexplained reasons (it is implied that it was because he was mentally inadequate). He views homeless people and junkies as waste and so he thinks that it does not bother anyone if it eliminates the waste. With the bodies, he wants to set up his own army, the Camden Horizontals. Since his act is prohibited by law, he tries to leave no traces by hiding the corpses under the fridge-like hole under his flat so that the bodies will not be discovered and will not rot.

Obsessed by the idea, he buys a cat, which he christens Sappho to make it appear to others that he is actually a nice guy. He plans each murder meticulously, and he has even studied ways of smiling to convince people to follow him. His modus operandi is to approach a homeless person at night, lure them to his apartment, either by offering them a place to sleep and some warm soup or by eliciting sexual services from them, and then murdering them there. In an effort to be diverse in his killings, he targets all races and genders. One day, Shelter meets Link and Ginger, and he declines to give them money when they beg from him. He hears them laugh as they walk away, and he thinks they were making fun of him. He decides to make them his next victims. It then emerges that Ginger had come back from visiting his friends and tried to find Link and that Shelter had persuaded Ginger that he had hit Link with his car and taken him back to his home. Ginger, enraged, had demanded to go see Link and he went straight into Shelter's house, where Shelter had killed him. Shelter then makes plans to murder Link.

Link is first drawn to Shelter when he meets a man, who shows him a picture of a girl that Link realises is an old acquaintance of Ginger and learns that the man is the girl's father and has come to London to look for his daughter. He learns that the man has asked other homeless people and they had told him they last saw her leaving with another man. Link finds the house and observes it but fails to see anything. He ends up getting into an argument with Gail, bringing up the fact that she is constantly wasting their money by phoning her sister. Gail leaves. Then, Link encounters Shelter, who cannot believe his luck and invites Link in for some soup and a bed for the night.

Inside, Link becomes suspicious and then notices the watch that had been taken from him some weeks earlier by "the Scouser", who had been another of Shelter's victims, at the moment that Shelter attacks him. However, Link is stronger than he looks and fights back. The police then arrive, having been called by Gail, who had seen Link enter the premises shortly after their argument. Shelter is arrested and dragged off to jail. Gail then confesses that she is an undercover reporter, Louise Bain, and that she had been doing research into homelessness to write a proper article on it, rather than a false one drawn up by The Sun, which Ginger had derisively referred to earlier as unfairly portraying homeless people as conmen. Upset at the hurt that she has caused Link, Louise gives him a large handful of notes from her wallet before getting into a car with her friend and driving away. Watching her go, Link sadly pockets the money and questions to himself whether justice was really done since Shelter will get a roof over his head, a warm bed and three meals a day in prison, but he will not. Deciding to make another fresh start, he packs up his few belongings and decides to leave Camden.


In 1997, the novel was adapted for a television series of the same title, starring James Gaddas, Peter Howitt and Elizabeth Rider, produced by Andy Rowley which was nominated for a Best Children's Drama Award at BAFTA.[3] The short series was shown on Scene BBC Two.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carnegie Winner 1993. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2018-02-28.
  2. ^ "Formats and Editions of Stone cold". WorldCat. Retrieved 2012-09-10.
  3. ^ "Stone Cold (1997) on the Internet Movie Database". Retrieved 2010-03-15.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Flour Babies
Carnegie Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Whispers in the Graveyard