Tuesday, 24 March 2015

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE CITY OF CRIMINALS by Mark Barry

5 GOLD STARS

Violent drama

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE


This book is of the type for which the 'indie' or self published world was made - fearless, quality writing that would probably never get taken on by a traditional publisher or larger independent press, because it fits into no established genre and would perhaps not appeal to the mass market, but for style and talent can rival the best and leave half of them standing.  This is the sort of novel that reaches cult status; maybe in five years' time people will be saying, "What, you haven't read City of Criminals?  Where have you been?"

I read it over a period of a couple of days and would have finished it sooner if I'd been able to.  It's terrific.

In brief:  Terry Valentine is an ex-con, a part-time crackhead, a ex-football hooligan, and a small-time crook with a chip on his shoulder about the middle classes and control of the populace by the rich.  Rapidly going to seed, he gets an emotional kick in the pants when he takes on the job of driver to young lesbian prostitute Chloe, and falls in love with her.  Once he gets into his head that she needs saving from her major client (who happens to be in love with her, too) and the gangsters who control her, all thoughts of a reconciliation with his one time love, sexy dope fiend Marge, go out of his head.

At first I worried that the free flowing writing style of narrative interspersed with Terry's inner dialogue, together with the lack of speech marks in conversation, might get on my nerves or even seem a little contrived, but it doesn't - it really works, more so as the book goes on, and is perfect for this story.  Mark Barry knows what he's doing.  The dark and dangerous underclass of brutal criminals, football hooligans, drug users and gamblers is obviously one he understands so well, too.  One thing I loved was the way in which the language of the world between the pages is not explained by some patronising glossary at the back of the book; if you're not sure exactly what is meant by a phrase or word on its first outing you soon pick it up, or if you don't it doesn't really matter. 

Barry has written before about a man with a serious dark side who falls hopelessly in love with and thinks he can save a woman half his age (in Carla), but this is an entirely different sort of novel, and by far his best of the ones I've read, I think.  What struck me most was that in the first half of the book Terry Valentine just seems like a bit of a sad case, but as the story moves on to violent confrontation you start to understand the mind of the type of man for whom only a fairly constant supply of class As (and large amounts of black market prescription medication) can replace the thrill of the brawl.  Although his feelings for Chloe are the basis for the whole story, it's about so much more. 

You'll like this book if you appreciate brilliant, sparky writing that doesn't nod to convention, if you have any interest at all in the football violence of the 1980s and gangsters in general, if the 'c' word and decidely unromantic sexual reference doesn't make you wince (actually, I found the sexual depiction in this book a lot less cringe-making than the would-be sexy bits added to many otherwise not otherwise erotically orientated novels these days.  It's real, it's not written to titillate; not an arched body or ecstatic moan to be seen). You'll like it if you're not put off by the mention of blood, and if you enjoy reading sharp, edgy, contemporary drama by a novelist who knows his stuff and isn't afraid to use it.

I couldn't put it down, abandoning my own work-in-progress in order to finish it.  It's fab, it really is.

CARLA by Mark Barry reviewed HERE


THE NIGHT PORTER by Mark Barry reviewed HERE


ULTRA VIOLENCE by Mark Barry reviewed HERE







7 comments:

  1. Top reviewing here Terry!! I think you've covered everything.The writing in this book is superb, I'm loving every moment of reading it, and really don't want it to end - haha!!

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  2. I wanted to say such a lot more, giving examples of bits I thought were particularly good, but it would have gone on forever! Also, those are perhaps of more interest to those who've read it already, I guess. Didn't you just love the way he got rid of Bart from Marge's flat??!!

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  3. I did love that and I know what you mean about putting in examples...I wouldn't know where to start. I find myself laughing out loud one moment and wanting to cry the next...

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  4. I'm looking forward to getting to read my first Mark Barry book soon, they all sound excellent.

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    1. Oh, he's definitely in my top 5 of most talented indie authors I've come across, Rosie!

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  5. Great review and I agree... sheer brilliance!

    Each vowel of her voice is airbrushed and lacquered, tainted with nicotine and peaches; each consonant stroked, massaged and caressed with a mysterious, nameless balm dripping with solace. I could sit and listen to her recite the Nottingham Yellow Pages and not interrupt her for one single second.
    (That voice…)

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    1. Isn't it just? All the time I was reading it I kept thinking, this is really something else. So far it's absolutely my favourite indie book of the year - will take a lot to beat! Glad you like the review, Brenda :)

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