Ken Bruen, The Do-Not Press, Â£6.99
Galway writer Ken Bruen lived over a decade in Brixton and Kennington as special teacher for so-called ‘low achievers’. Along the way he picked up a Runyonesque feel for south-east London and its people that first exploded on to the page in the acclaimed noir, ‘Rilke on Black’. This is his sixth since. To call it a crime novel is like saying wine is something to drink. On one level it’s a reworking of Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’, on another it’s a modern morality tale, thick with misfits, losers and those who prey on them.
Mitchell is released from Pentonville after serving three years for a vicious attack he doesn’t even remember. He’s met at the gates by Norton, a former associate with plans â€“ plans that include violence, extortion and payback. Mitchell is an anti-hero in the tradition of Thompson and Goodis, a flawed character with a curiously twisted sense of morality, but even he realises that things are going too far. Attempting to distance himself from his turbulent past, Mitchell takes a job as handyman in sunny west London, a cop-out those south of the river don’t approve of.
The cast of characters in ‘London Boulevard’ is rich and Dickensian: in Holland Park there’s fading actress Lillian Palmer and her east European butler, Jordan; back in cold, dark SE11 the list is headed by loan shark and general bad guy, Tommy Logan. But the best of the bunch is Mitchell’s sister, Briony; disturbed and maybe a slug short of a massacre, her love for Mitchell pulls him back on to the straight and narrow â€“ almost. ‘London Boulevard’ is truly great entertainment, permeated with a dark and disturbing strand thatï¿½ll stay with you long after the final denouement. Treat yourselves. David Peters
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