OR: Deadfolk

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #39:-


Serpent’s Tail pb, 305pp, £7.99

In the town of Mangel, an insular community in which crime is rife and survival of the fittest rules apply, Royston Blake is a man with an image to maintain. As Head Doorman of Hoppers Wine Bar & Bistro he must command respect, but just lately things have been slipping. The new owner of Hoppers has plans that threaten his job security and the rumours are spreading that Royston has lost his bottle. Women who used to welcome his flirting now take offence and, most ominous of all, his former employers, the Minton brothers, seem to have taken a dislike to Royston. The slide started with the death of his wife in a fire that destroyed Hoppers in its previous incarnation, an act of arson in which Royston’s culpability was suspected but never proved by the police. Royston formulates an audacious plan to restore his standing in the community, but of course things go disastrously wrong and before too long Mangel is running up a body count that astonishes even its blasé citizens.

This first novel from Charlie Williams is a dark and violent book. Imagine, if you will, the comparatively genteel Midsomer Murders transplanted to darkest Somerset and given a delight in excess worthy of Tarantino, the whole dripping with pitch black comedy and panache. Oh, and then tell it in a West Country vernacular. It is the first person narrative that makes the book, drawing the reader in from the get go and, while never becoming someone we might actually like, Royston Blake is a beautifully realised character, someone who is totally believable on his own terms and whose fight to rise above the obstacles that confront him we can identify with, even feel a twinge of empathy as the shit keeps on coming, most of it really not his fault. What in part makes him so credible is his complete and somewhat endearing lack of self awareness; he is, to put it bluntly, rather stupid, though this is not something you would say to his face, but never doubts his superiority to those around him, thus presenting the archetypal hard man as both figure of fun and the embodiment of menace. The plot is satisfyingly complicated without veering into the absurd and made more so by the basic unreliability of the narrator. Some things do grate slightly, such as the inexplicable and constant harping on about how nobody ever leaves Mangel (actually for those like me who think Mangel and then Wurzel, the name itself is a bit problematic) and one unresolved plot detail at the end, but overall this is a compelling and highly enjoyable, albeit not for the squeamish, debut from writer Charlie Williams, who delivers a tour de force exercise in narrative voice and sets those mean streets along which a man must walk in a refreshingly different locale.

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