In crime noir fiction, the competitiveness of the genre demands some originality from the stereotypical smart-talking ex-cop tough guy PI. Ray Banks' Cal Innes, a pill-popping codeine addict with a bad back, is none of these. And Ray Banks is a writer with his own style to match - the kind of stuff you'd expect from Jim Thompson if he was reincarnated as Ken Bruen.
Banks takes us through about a third of the book - Cal and partner-of-sorts Frank serving eviction notices for a notorious slumlord - before any real "detecting" starts. So if "No More Heroes," the third Innes, is your starting point in the series, you may be wondering for a lot of pages exactly what kind of novel you've stumbled into. But Banks and his tale pick up some heat when Innes rescues a young immigrant from a burning house, casting him as the humble hero and putting him back on the PI track - if reluctantly. Quitting his job with the slumlord, he's immediately hired back - but as a private investigator tasked to find the arsonist.
Set in blue collar Manchester England, Banks revels in the grit and slang of a city that has only barely outlived the mills and smoke stacks and sweat shops of this urban wasteland. Banks prose flows with biting wit and barbed wire-sharp cynicism, spiced with poetic gems and characters like "the kind of doe-eyed girl who makes Bono lay awake at night thinking he's just not doing enough." But there's more to Ray Banks and "No More Heroes" than clever dialog and thugs beating on Innes; Banks takes head-on a complex set of social issues - immigration, white supremacy, idealism, and student activism - without grinding an axe, leaving the soapbox in the kitchen. Tough stuff, written without apology or vindication.
Ray Banks is another writer of power fiction who's unfairly too far off the beaten track. He deserves to be read - another answer to that common question, "exactly what defines noir?"