This is not an easy book to read. There are no quotation marks; it is comprehensive in its' use of Black Country dialect at all times; and it switches between four or five scenarios - often in the same paragraph. So don't expect a light and fluffy read.
Nonetheless, it has plenty of merits. The social insight is sharp and well-observed, with good details squirreled away and not signposted as if you are a moron. The description of failed footballers and their slow decline is well described, and Cartwright avoids crude stereotyping of `good' and `bad' characters; all the characters have their virtues and flaws, excuses and reasons. The politics carry the grubby amateurism that pervades local council life, and different cultures are sensitively and skilfully observed. As social commentary, it works very well.
It is intended as a `slice of life' with no distinct beginning or end, but for me this is a drawback to the book. As the story continues, it becomes clear that it lacks a coherent direction, and so lacks any momentum or pace. It moves at one speed, knowing it will never reach a conclusion. I think Cartwright could legitimately have taken the story somewhere, and created an arc to some of the characters, without sacrificing the social realism and authenticity he sought.
Provided you are prepared to work at physically reading this, you will get an excellent slice of Black Country life in 2002, without judgements or moralising. Next time, I would like to see Cartwright commit more to a plot, which needn't mean sacrificing the fundamentals he has developed so well here.