One of the things about the e-book era is that it has re-energised the British crime and dark fiction scene. Novelists and short fiction writers who might have been overlooked by the big publishers – for being too dark, too grim, too violent, too different – have been given the option to self-publish or work with small, independent publishers to produce books that have, in many cases, had some of the big boys on the run. These writers are knowledgeable about their trade, know their history, know how to hook readers from the first sentence, and more importantly know how to use social media and modern technology in a way that many of the more established pros seem incapable of doing. There are a lot of these folks out there: Paul D Brazill, Ian Ayris, McDroll, Luca Veste, along with more established folks like Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, Nick Quantrill. Also, included with this rather gilded lot is Nigel Bird.
Until recently, Bird had wrote mostly short fiction, although a novella length work, Smoke, was published not so long ago. And until very recently (despite being interested in his work) I hadn’t downloaded any of his collections, due to a very large to-be-read pile and work commitments. But I put this behind me recently by reading Dirty Old Town – a short but strong collection of short fiction.
For such a short collection, there’s a lot of good stuff in here. One Hundred and Ten Per Cent, which goes through the life of a runner as he moves from prison to the race track. It’s compelling, hard and has some lovely little moments of description:
“Everyone has a talent,” Tweed said.
As it happened, he was pretty damned good at taking the faces of cunts like the man on the other side of the table and turning them into modern art.
Nice and pithy. Appeals to a fan of clever, sweary quips like myself. But elsewhere, as in Dirty Old Town, the title story, a subtler but equally clever use of language comes into play:
I didn’t see the stars, but felt them speed through my nervous system, tingling down to my fingers and toes.
Again, nice and pithy. And the rest of the story is just as good. Harsh, unforgiving, and with a nice sense of loss.
A lot of these stories deal with loss: Dirty Old Town, Drinking Wine (Spo-dee-oh-dee), Sea Minor, Taking A Line For A Walk; all these deal with a sense of loss (love, life, future, family, you name it).
Bird has a lot of empathy and sympathy for his characters, even the bad ones, and it shines through on the page. In this sense, his work shares similarities with Donald Ray Pollock whose work I reviewed here.
There are a number of memorable stories in this collection. Bird has genuine talent and is definitely one to keep an eye on for the future. And I think I’ll be reading more of his work sooner rather than later.