The Glasgow Grin by Martin Stanley

Derrick Horodyski gave The Glasgow Grin an excellent review on his blog. Please feel free to give it a read, and then go and check out the rest of his posts.

Regular Guy Reading Noir

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About a year ago, I took a chance and bought a book called The Hunters by Martin Stanley, an author I was unfamiliar with. I devoured the book in two days and immediately started looking for other books he had written. That is how I stumbled upon the series of short stories and novellas that feature the Stanton Brothers. This accidental discovery of Stanley’s work is one of the top highlights of the past year in my reading life.

To say that the Stanton Brothers’ stories, novellas, and novels will keep you entertained is making too simplistic of a statement. To be accurate, they will entertain you, amaze you, make you laugh, keep you up late at night as you read “just one more chapter” and make you a fan of Martin Stanley forever.

I have been waiting for him to release The Glasgow Grin since I finished his last…

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Review: Angels of the North by Ray Banks

Set in the Derwent Hall estate in the Eighties, when Margaret Thatcher’s social experiment with selling off public utilities to the highest bidder, selling council houses to willing tenants, and turning Britain into a service based economy was at its height, Angels of The North deals with three men who turn vigilante when their estate is threatened by a squat filled with drug dealers and junkies. When Joe, a former soldier and heroin user, is informed by Gavin, a local cabbie, about the violent assault of estate resident Brian at the hands of the dealers, he decides that he can kill two birds with one stone: he can drive the dealers off the estate and also get his hands on a free supply of H. He does this by roping in the initially reluctant Gav – who has delusions of grandeur and wants to run the cab firm he works for – and the even more reluctant Brian – an intelligent but unemployed man cursed with a deceitful ex-wife and unpleasant teenage daughter – and gets them to help him raid the squat; although he doesn’t divulge the fact that he’s doing it to steal heroin. Everything goes as wrong as can be expected, but it instils Gav with more determination to do something about the drug dealers.

With the help of aggressive driver Phil, Gav organises the drivers to burn down the squat. Then things change: Gav forces his unwell boss to hand over the cab firm, and turns the cab firm into a sort of Guardian Angels of Tyneside (though Phil is taking this further than agreed by beating dealers and taking their money); Joe, meanwhile, is now a full-blown heroin addict who despises his wife, his child, his live-at-home father, and himself most of all; and Brian is an alcoholic cleaner at the Metrocenter indoor shopping estate.

From here the fortunes of the men see-saw from highs to lows and back again, as their ambitions and foibles ultimately lead to a tragic and violent final third.

Regular readers of this blog will know how highly I rate Ray Banks. His storytelling abilities are first-rate, his prose is clean and fat-free and his ear for the patterns of regional British dialogue is probably the best around. The Cal Innes novels and Wolf Tickets are superb reads, but Angels of the North is something else entirely. It feels like Banks is channeling his inner James Ellroy. From the well implemented historical setting, to the distinctive three protagonist structure that the ‘Demon Dog’ made his own, right through to Puma Cabs, which seems to be a play on American Tabloid’s Tiger Kabs, Angels gives the impression of a writer wanting to expand his horizons into territory that Ellroy knows well. And like the best of Ellroy, Angels is really quite brilliant.

Three flawed, not particularly likeable, but very well-drawn protagonists propel the reader through a character driven tale. Unlike James Ellroy, Banks isn’t interested in Byzantine plotting (although the way he weaves a corrupt police officer through the story suggests that he could have gone in that direction if he so wished), he tells the story through the decisions (wise and unwise) that his characters make. Through a combination of hubris and poorly made decisions the three characters reach fates that seem entirely natural (no matter how tragic).

The writing is scalpel sharp and cuts through the characters’ lives with regularity. The dialogue resonates with authenticity and a few choice Eighties expressions that I’d almost forgotten. Angels works as an outright character drama piece and also as an exposé of what Thatcher’s policies did to the north. This novel establishes Banks as Brit Grit’s premier exponent. I might read a better novel this year, but it’s going to have to be a once in a blue moon work of brilliance to top this beauty. Highly recommended. If you don’t download this on Kindle you’re denying yourself something very special.

Review of Ben Turner Is A Dead Man by Ryan Bracha

Some months on from the events of Paul Carter Is A Dead Man, things have changed drastically in New Britain. The slow-burning rebellion that Carter started culminates in a short, bloody war with the Scottish separatists and makes life difficult for Robert Lodge and his repressive regime. For a start, a group of lawyers, led by the beautiful but unhinged Nat Sweeney, are killing crews for both revenge and fun – stating that they’re working for Paul Carter, when they are in fact flying solo; then Ben Turner is also doing the same thing. Turner is despatched by Carter and the leader of the Scots, Davie Craig, to stop Sweeney and her group by killing them. Turner, being the somewhat rebellious individual that he is, ignores his orders and instead forms an uneasy alliance with Sweeney in order to kick off a bigger revolution. But in doing so he is messing with the well-laid plans of Garner, Robert Lodge’s former right-hand man, leading to folks being sent from Scotland (including Carter) to stop Turner from messing things up for Craig, leading to a chaotic and bloody finale.

Ryan Bracha’s Paul Carter was one of my favourite books of last year. It had invention and wit in spades, as well as a propulsive storyline and great characters. Now that the element of surprise that Paul Carter created has gone, it all comes down to storytelling for the sequel. And it doesn’t disappoint, because Bracha takes that foundation and builds on it, with a plot that involves a lot flashbacks and double- and triple-crosses. The narrative steams ahead in a way that even the first book couldn’t quite manage. Ben Turner is a very good read with plenty of wit, a lively cast of characters, good writing, and a keen eye for subverting audience expectations. Highly recommended, but if you haven’t read Paul Carter yet then it is best to start with that because it is also damn fine read.