Saturday, August 2, 2008


Often when it comes to noir, I appreciate how sick the book is. I get swept up by how lurid the violence is, by how evil or tortured my protagonists are. I get dazzled by the nastiness, get excited by the sickness, am fueled by the whoa-shit!-ness of the book. That's really what brought me to noir in the first place. I liked to laugh along with bad guys. I liked my heroes un-heroic. I liked my plots brutal, my resolutions twisted or ambiguous. You know, all the stuff that amps up any ten-year-old.

But Saturday's Child is not a whoa-shit book. It does not have a totally fucked crazy plot. The bad guys don't behead someone then light a cigarette, walk toward the camera looking cool with flecks of blood on their two-thousand dollar suit showing in the harsh contrast lighting. It's not that type of book.

But it will make you say - probably about a dozen pages in - it will make you say, "Whoa shit!" but in a calm, clear voice.

Ray Banks is very similar to one of my favorite writers today, Sean Doolittle. Like Doolittle, Banks's book is real-life scale. Like Doolittle, the language is rock solid, simple yet undeniably perfect, precise. And above all, again like Doolittle, you are carried along not by the twisted plot but by the wonderful characters.

And fuck, Mo and Cal are quite the pair.

There are two first person narratives going on here at the same time. Over a few days we follow Callum Innes, low-rent P.I., and Mo Tiernan, son of legendary Manchester mob boss Morris Tiernan. It's easy to distinguish who is narrating chapter by chapter because Mo relates everything in a thick Manc accent, full of words like summat, nowt, owt, pringle, busy, and on and on (it gets easy to read really quick), while Cal's voice is more easily decipherable.

Big Morris has hired ex-con Cal to hunt down a dealer at one of his illegal gambling houses who has took off with some cash. Mo Tiernan, for reasons we don't find out until later, wants to find the dealer before Cal does. That's it. The stuff of classic noir. A P.I. and the guy trying to stop the P.I.

But what makes it so much more exciting is how human these guys are. Mo could have easily been the crazy motherfucker we've seen in countless novels - cutting off fingers on a whim, shooting people over nothing, etc. - but he is a crazy motherfucker that we could actually meet on the street. He is sociopathic and a right bastard, but not to the point that we don't believe him. He's a violent dick, not a serial killer.

Callum Innes is an ex-con with lots of worries. The cops are on his ass, he could be recalled to jail over any small misstep, his brother's cleaning up, and Morris Tiernan is not someone he can say no to under any circumstances. But he's not the tougher than tough guy we've come to expect in such P.I. novels. He's no Mike Hammer - hell, he doesn't even carry a gun. And he's certainly no great detective. His case is simple enough and the methods he employs relatable. There is no super-sleuthing going on in this book. He's just a guy with some troubles and a past. He doesn't want to do bad things, but he's human and forced into a shitty situation. And he's a bit of drunkard.

These two characters are so compelling, the plot so simple and organic (something you can hardly ever say for a P.I. book), the language so funny and exciting, that I couldn't tear myself away from Saturday's Child. Sick things happen, and there are fucked up moments, but on such a different, realistic level that make them resonate all the more. To really discuss what makes this such a different noir novel you have to discuss the last act of the book. It is just as exciting a conclusion as any noir novel, no doubt about it, but decidedly different. It is refreshing, original, ambiguous, and, well, believable.

If it's in the cards, I look forward to seeing more of Callum Innes and Mo Tiernan. If Callum Innes had his own series he would rival Jack Taylor for best P.I. out there. I need to read more of him, but Ray Banks is definitely someone I'll be looking out for. The right bastard is fuckin' cool as.

No comments: