Sunday, November 23, 2008


The second book in Charlie Williams' Royston Blake trilogy is a solid work, some would debate it's even more so than Deadfolk. Williams is even more sure in his storytelling, taking it out there even further than before. Thing is, Fags and Lager just didn't work for me the quite the way the first novel did.

We pick up with Blake a few months after the events that closed Deadfolk. Blake is in charge of Hopper's, though in reality Nathan the bar man is running the show from the shadows. Things couldn't be better in Blake's thick, delusional eyes. Well, his main squeeze Sal could stand to lose a few pounds, and yeah, maybe he's more fat than he is actually strong these days...and his clientele at Hopper's is mainly wanker kids who don't actually buy drinks, just come in stoned on something called Joey and fuck the place up - but that is neither here nor there.

Blake is approached by Doug the shopkeeper to rough up an outsider who is messing around with his teenage daughter. The bounty: four hundred fags and four hundred cans of lager. Sure, the beer is past sell-by and he could probably go through a carton of smokes in a week's time, but shit, Blake never claimed to be the brightest of bulbs. Well, okay, maybe he has made such a claim but whatever. He's just not that smart. His swede ain't what it should be, now ennit?

Turns out the dude he's supposed to rough up is his new boss, Nick Nopoly, who has purchased Hopper's from Nathan so that he can sell Joey to its underage patrons. So there's now a conflict of interest and then Blake kills some folks and fucks some shit up and things go this way and that and you have another fun, tough-as-nails novel like Deadfolk.

At least, that's what you'd think.

The first problem I had with this book are the little newspaper articles that precede every chapter. They're all from the local paper and they keep the reader informed of matters outside the limited knowledge of Royston Blake for the sake of storytelling. But the articles are so silly and cheeky that they just take you right out of it. With Deadfolk I was under the impression that I was in a fairly realistic world but the events were skewed because of the fact that a crazy person was telling the story. In Fags and Lager I quickly learned that everyone, even the press, is just as crazy as Royston Blake. It threw me for a loop, I tells ya.

Then there's the matter of the voice this go around: it's too funny. Now I know you're saying, 'The fuck's your deal, Nerd? Funny is good in my book.' Well, I generally agree with you, Imaginary Reader, I really do, but this time I feel like Williams takes it too far with the funny to the point that it dilutes the "noir" too much for my liking. Blake is constantly talking directly to the reader for comedic effect, telling the reader to fuck off and such and generally calling attention to the narration device itself. I'm not against post-modern tricks, no sir. I loves me some Bruen and God knows he fucks with stuff like that, especially in the Brixton precinct novels, but I really feel like the jokey-ness of the tone gets in the way of the darkness a bit too much.

But it is still a dark book, for sure. Blake does some more terrible things and the last few pages are surprisingly dire and depressing, a truly bleak ending for such a funny, satirical book. Still, though, there are a few too many cartoonish elements this go around. The whole "sweets" drug thing, a major part of the book, is a little too cute and reminded me of shitty action movies where the villains come up with their own super-lethal-addictive-green-glowing-drug ("Its streetname is BLOODBREEZE and it is a thousand times more potent than heroin!"), and certain other plot points were a little too out-sized for my tastes as well (Blake may be dumb, but no way he didn't know a certain character was in fetish gear instead of butcher gear. I mean, come on!).

But my complaints aren't meant to trash the book, merely show how miffed I was by the slightly more ridiculous elements in the book. I balls-out fucking adored Deadfolk and simply didn't LOVE the shit out of Fags and Lager. I liked it and it read fast as a motherfucker, but it just doesn't quite live up to its predecessor. I don't know if King of the Road is closer to Fags and Lager or Deadfolk, but either way I'm eager to read the shit out of it. It sure is harder to get a copy of than the other two in the U.S., though. The fuck's with that Serpent's Tail?

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