Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Bitch

Les Edgerton
The Bitch

Bare Knuckles Press, 2011

Jake, a former thief, changed profession. Now, instead of locks and safes, he works with hair. He is a stylist at the beauty salon and plans to open his own business. Jake was in prison twice, but his boss does not know about it, and he doesn’t need to know. Jake is not going to prison for a third time, because the third strike for him will be the last. He finally goes straight, graduated from college, married a lovely woman by the name of Paris, with whom he takes care of his younger brother Bobby. The parents of the two brothers were burned in their own house, and since then, big brother has been looking after younger.

Only a bright future ahead, until one day, a phone rings. Jake’s cell-mate Walker Joy calls Jake and asks him for a favor. Four years Jake has not seen Walker and dreamed that he will not see him ever. Now Jake can not send Walker back to where he wants to, because the Walker saved Jake's life in prison. One favor for another, especially as Walker has a few secrets about Jake. If these secrets will be known to cops, Jake may have to prepare for a life sentence already.

Walker recently released from prison, and he is in need to earn extra money. On a tip from a jeweler Walker should rob another jeweler, and Jake just has to help with the safe. Robbery plan is designed so that success should be one hundred percent. Jake, agreeing to help, knows that he can already say goodbye to his new life.

The Bitch from the book's title is a slang expression that criminals use in relation to the law of the three convictions.

«He knew what it meant all right. The Bitch. Three strikes and you're out. Ha-bitch-ual criminal. One more pop and I knew the judge would be peering down at me over his wireframes and saying, "Jacob Bishop, I hereby sentence you to life imprisonment. Have a nice day, loser." Just the thought made my balls shrivel up and the back of my neck ache.»

Jake through the whole book walks with the idea of returning to prison, that's what he fears most. «The Bitch» is a huge snowball, which runs directly on the main character, along with the reader. Jake makes one choice after another, he takes a step to the left and step to the right, but the snowball continues to bear down on him. All that is done, for the better. All that is not done, for the better. But all of that is done and is not done, for the worse. And isn’t it what life is if not all that you are doing and not doing?

«The Bitch» is a novel about that mistakes can not be corrected. Everything that you do to correct the mistakes is even bigger mistakes. Novel offers many plot turns, connected with Jake’s mistakes so «The Bitch» without thinking is probably the most unpredictable of all the novel I've read this year. Thus it is necessary to make allowance for the fact that the book is written in noir traditions, and this would mean that we know from the start, how it will all end.

In addition to his other qualities, «The Bitch» stands out its enviable authenticity. Jake and Walker think like real ex-cons, behave like real ex-cons. Les Edgerton himself had prison experience, he knows the mind of an ex-con far and wide. The difference between the characters, created as a hypothetical and based on actual experience, can be almost invisible, but it is felt.

Uncompromising finale completes this dark novel. Sometimes death is the way out.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dead Money

Ray Banks
Dead Money

Blasted Heath, 2011

Alan Slater has got problems. He sells windows, but doesn’t give a damn about job lately. He cheates on his wife, and his marriage is about to fall apart. He has fun in bed with a young student, but shecan send him away any time. But the biggest problem for Alan is his mate Les Beale of uneven temper.

Beale is a gambler, a drinker and owner of a shitty personality. Alan’s colleague in sales office, Les no longer appears to work, all the time hangs in casinos and bars, getting drunk. Les has already hit the black list of most Manchester gambling venues, and it is not surprising, taking in account his temper: at the very beginning of the novel he breaks a nose of one of Chinese gamblers.

Alan is the only one who tolerates the company of his violent friend, but his patience is going to the end. Things at work and at home are deteriorating and then Les makes Alan’s life even worse: engages in illegal card game and kills one of the gamblers. Alan realizes that his past problems are nothing compared to those that had yet to be solved.

Ray Banks, in his re-written debut, follows old traditions of noir, making his protagonist a sales agent. Give your hero profession of a salesman, and be sure that this character just will get plenty of trouble. The worse things get for Alan, the more fun for the reader. Banks knows how to make a character unstable, cruel, selfish, dark, but at the same time attractive. And what is the sales agent if he is devoid of charm?

«Dead Money» is a story about the deadline in human life, if it exists. You temporize and put off major doings and solutions to the very limit, hoping that there is still time, but it turns out that it's too late - the deadline has long past.

Ray Banks is a breath of fresh air in British literature, stinking moldy stuff of police procedurals.