Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Dark Courier

This month, I have been mostly reading novellas about couriers. Two novellas that are very different in approach and setting, but which are both excellent. One of the best things about the growth of e-publishing is that it gives room for work at lengths that might have been regarded as commercially tricky. I like novellas, as they have that little bit more room to explore plot and character than a short story, but can still be satisfactorily polished off at a single setting.

Sean Cregan's All You Leave Behind (US) is set in Newport City, which has also been the setting for his The Levels and The Razor Gate. I really like the feel of this near-future (or alternate present?) city of decay and violence. It feels well worked-out (you feel you're seeing part of a greater whole, not just a film set with one street and backlot beyond) and I hope that we see more of it. This story focuses on the runners in the Levels district, couriers who provide connections between the city's warring criminal factions, and who work to a code.

Chase has been a runner for five years. He takes on an ordinary job, but is interrupted by a phone call from a stranger which saves his life. The package he's delivering is a bomb that would have killed him and the person he's delivering it to, and Chase wants to find out who wanted to kill him - and who it was who saved him, and why.

Although it doesn't wander into any of the genre's cliches and there's no tech to speak of, All You Leave behind reminds me of the feel of good cyberpunk, particularly in the almost mythic aspects of Chase's protector, and the way that's expressed around the city by rumour, whispers, mysterious paintings. Add in a breakneck pace and it's an interesting mix and a very good read.

Ray Banks' Gun (US) is set in very recognisable real-world territory for me and tells the story of Richie, fresh out of prison and sent to pick up a gun for a man you don't want to upset, from another man you don't want to upset either. Or sit next to. Richie starts to have second thoughts about returning to the life, but it's all too late, the job goes terribly wrong, and his attempt to fix it makes it go from bad to worse.

There's not a wasted paragraph in Gun, it's told with great economy and Richie's voice is consistent and engaging throughout. There's some really well-drawn and interesting characters, and when Richie's job all breaks down into inevitable chaos and violence it's sudden, and shocking, and real.

This to me is much more vital British crime fiction than most novels of Detective {NAME} with sidekick {NAME2} set in {CITY} tracking down {SERIAL KILLER} and never failing to visit {SCENIC SPOTS OF CITY}. Stories like Gun are far more real - and honest - and capture a slice of what life in Britain is like for many people. It's classic Banks territory, people trying to make their way the best they can when the odds are stacked against them, and the chances are they will find a way to fuck it all up regardless. But you read on, because the voice and Richie's struggle are so engaging, you have to see whether he makes it.

Both highly recommended. Both available now on Blue-Ray and DVD. Sorry, I mean Amazon. Links in the text. Check them out.

1 comment:

  1. I'm trying to finally get through The Great and Secret Show, and it's killing me. After this, sub 50k word works for awhile. Because of your rec and the interview, Gun is at the top of my list.