Thursday, November 13, 2008


What is up with these nasty fuckers from the U-fucking-K? How did the Irish, Brits and Scots manage to wrestle the hard-boiled title away from the Americans, the folks who forged the belt out of U.S.-fucking-Steel all those years ago? Ken Bruen, Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, Charlie Williams - seems these dandies with funny accents are out-noir-ing us like gangbusters with each new release. If you need proof of this shameful fact, look no further than Williams' Deadfolk, the first novel in his Royston Blake trilogy.

Deadfolk is narrated by Blake himself, a doorman at Hoppers, a posh bar (for Mangel, anyway) owned by a dreaded outsider. Blake has been down since his wife was burned up in a suspicious fire, so down that folks around town suspect he's lost his bottle. Truth is, he has lost it. His new girl doesn't respect him, any punter comes through the door could give a shit he's manning it, and the Munton clan - a nasty groups of thick brothers - are giving him shit big time. When he finally is pushed too far, Blake comes out of his depressed stupor to prove everyone wrong.

Then a spot of murder happens and Blake's life really goes to pot.

The first thing that strikes you about Deadfolk is the voice, Blake's voice, that is. He speaks in the voice of small-town Britain, with "summats, bottlers, knackers, fags, mongs, scran, slash," and other such words foreign to my ignorant American ears. No worries, though, you catch on quick then it never lets up. Deadfolk reads ridiculously fast.

The other and most fascinating point that catches your eye is how absolutely thick and thuggish Blake is. I mean, he's our main character, our eyes and ears, and yet he's a nasty piece of work and actually pretty stupid most of the time. It's like if Lehane told the Kenzie/Gennaro books not through Patrick's eyes but through Bubba's. Actually, that might be a pretty good series...

But no, it is really messed up that Blake is a main character. He's sick, he's mean, he's delusional, he's a brute, etc., etc., but he's also hilarious and has a code. Okay, so he breaks his own code more often than not but still. He means well. Not all the time but...okay he's an asshole. It's quite a feat to have him at the center and do some absolutely horrible things (there's one murder by the riverside that almost lost me, a champion of evil characters everywhere), yet he's still our man. And it's not like with many Jason Starr novels where you're supposed to hate him, either. He's our hero, that Royston Blake.

But my favorite aspect of this novel is its simplicity. This is something I talked about way back when I reviewed Guthrie's Savage Night, the pleasure I get out of certain noir novels/movies where the author takes something simple and at human level and has events escalate into something much more complex and agonizing. Basically, the James M. Cain style of noir where there aren't major corruption plots to be uncovered or international spies to be exposed, just simple folk doing simple things for simple reasons...and then all the little things add up to something dizzyingly complicated.

So, my fellow Americans, read yourself some Charlie Williams and know thine enemy. We must not allow him and the rest of his monocle-wearing mates to beat us at our own game any longer.

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