Ken Bruen, The Do-Not Press, £6.99
Galway writer Ken Bruen lived over a decade in Brixton and Kennington as a 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 — almost. ‘London Boulevard’ is truly great entertainment, permeated with a dark and disturbing strand that’ll stay with you long after the final denouement. Treat yourselves. David Peters