Farrell has problem. His girlfriend, Nora, has stolen his twenty grand stash. But, worse still, she’s also taken his Italian leather jacket – the one that makes him look like Franco Nero, at the right angle and the right light. She’s left him a note telling him that if he’s smart he won’t go looking for her.
He ignores it.
He ropes in his mate, Cobb (a flabby, lightfingered Geordie whose as fast with his lip as he is with a battery-filled sock) and they go looking for her. The path leads them to a crippled drug-dealer, a stolen gun with dodgy bullets, a murdered girl, and a psychotic Irish ex-con with a nifty and nasty line in torture and disfigurement.
Wolf Tickets might not be very long but this novella is a prime slice of crime fiction. The writing is superb – slang driven, tightly knitted prose told from the POV of Farrell and Cobb (alternating a chapter each) – and the story screams along like a nitro-powered race car. Every character is fully fleshed-out (even the minor characters) in a few sentences or lines of dialogue, which, as always with Banks, is flat-out superb. When the book was over I felt sad because it’s a masterful ride while it lasts. If it hadn’t been for Roger Smith’s Capture this would have been my favourite read of the year. Still, it’s a seriously good piece of writing: exciting, frightening, funny and as brutal as Cobb’s battery cosh. Highly recommended.
At the beginning of Beautiful, Naked and Dead Moses McGuire is one seriously damaged man. He’s in debt, works as a bouncer in a lapdancing bar, can’t afford alimony payments to his bitch of an ex and would rather eat a bullet than go on with this life. His suicide attempt is interrupted by his friend Kelly, a waitress at the club where he works, who leaves a message asking him for help. When he eventually catches up with her it is too late, she has been raped and murdered by persons unknown. He puts aside thoughts of suicide and replaces them with ones of revenge. Initially, McGuire thinks it may have been Russians but eventually the clues link her death to the Italian mob. The path leads him to Kelly’s sister, Cass, pornography, and some unpleasant gangsters who want to turn McGuire and the girl into target practice. But McGuire is tough to kill and an even tougher opponent to cross wits with and decides to hunt them instead. Leading to several bloody showdowns…
Man, Josh Stallings can write. Creating a good first-person voice is difficult to do (particularly if you misjudge the tone). Stallings gets McGuire’s voice spot-on from the get-go: a combination of Chandleresque asides and observations, spare but vivid scene-setting and a keen eye for nailing his characters dead-on (even the minor ones). Also, he’s no slouch at the action stuff, which comes in handy because there’s plenty of it, particularly later in the tale. On top of this compelling voice he builds a strong narrative that drives forward at ever increasing speed; not once does it flag. I raced through it in a couple of days, which seems to be a rarity for me nowadays (as my time is at a premium). If you fancy a top-notch read with zero flab then get yourself Beautiful, Naked and Dead today. You won’t regret it. It comes highly recommended.
I’ve been shit. Sorry!
A combination of intermittent work and a short story collection that won’t stop giving me grief has caused this hiatus from blogging (and from writing in general, barring the odd good day when I have been able to motivate myself). However, I have a couple of reviews to upload this week: Killing Cupid by Mark Edwards and Louise Voss; and Beautiful, Naked & Dead by Josh Stallings. Also, slowly but surely I am writing again. Not much admittedly, but not much is better than nothing.
Hell, I might just finish this damn short collection and a Stanton Brothers novellette this year. And there will always be more reviews.
So normal service will be resumed shortly.