Monday, August 16, 2010

Book: Beast of Burden, by Ray Banks (2009, U.S. 2011)

Since walking out of prison, Manchester’s Cal Innes has accomplished a hell of a lot more than he expected. He’s set up a detective agency (of sorts), become something of a local hero, even journeyed to Californ-eye-ay.

But it’s taken a ferocious toll. At the start of Ray Banks’ fourth novel about the character, Cal is a physical and emotional wreck. And for all his accomplishments, his world is still defined by the people who knew him when: crime boss Morris Tiernan, his lunatic son Mo, and hardheaded flatfoot “Donkey” Donkin. It turns out Mo’s taken a powder, Morris only trusts Cal to find him, and Donkin ... well, Donkin just wants to wind Cal up and grind him down.

Beast of Burden, need it be said, is funny as hell. Cal’s dyspeptic but decent voice remains one of the great pleasures of recent crime fiction. But Banks, the bugger, turns half the narration duties over to Cal’s nemesis Donkin, a decision that renders the copper human and allows you to feel for the prick without diminishing his prickishness one iota. And the ending will leave you reeling. There’s daring to spare here.

The book won’t be published in the States until 2011, which gives you ample opportunity to devour the three previous novels first. As I’ve said before, it’s best to think of the Innes series as a single, darkly hilarious, and ultimately moving novel. I’ve had my copy of Beast of Burden for over a year, and the highest compliment I can pay is that I wish I’d held out on reading it a little longer. It’d be reassuring to know that it was still in its metaphorical glass case, that I had a Banks book on hand in the event of emergency. Now I have to wait for him to write another one.