The term "noir" gets thrown around far too often in discussions of new crime writing, mainly because few critics (let alone copywriters or just regular folks) can agree about what the term means. However, one central noir theme is the flawed hero (or antihero) pursuing some kind of impossible dream (be it a dame, a score, or just a quiet life). In that sense, this second book from Welsh writer Lewis is distinctly noir, even though the word doesn't appear anywhere on the cover. Another thing you won't find anywhere on the cover is a mention that this is a sequel -- the second book to feature down and out alcoholic private eye Robin Llewellyn. It is preceded by The Last Llanelli Train, which is mentioned on the back as "Lewis' first novel," without any reference to it being about the same character. This is only important insofar as I am a stickler for reading crime (or other genre) series in order, and thus it's irksome to learn after the fact that there is more to the backstory. Throughout this book there are allusions and hints throughout to some dire and desperate events in Bristol that ruined Llewellyn and drove him back home to Swansea, all of which are presumably detailed in the first book.
In any event, here we find Llewellyn as a barely functioning alcoholic, living in a flophouse, and scrounging for money to feed his unslakeable thirst. As someone without much interest in booze, I found the book rather slow to get going, as a windfall allows Llewellyn to engage in a meandering pub crawl which grows increasingly tedious (for both him and the reader), even as it provides commentary on the inevitable change the town has seen. This same windfall eventually puts him in a tight spot with some nasty people, and he is forced to do a little bit of work for a local gangster. This mostly involves being a watchman at a warehouse full of dodgy booze, and signing various customs documents placed before him. Of course, eventually Llewellyn works out what's going on and tries to turn the tables in a desperate gamble to rescue his life. However, as a protagonist, he's rather hard to get invested in. Since the reader isn't privy to the full backstory from The Last Llanelli Train, we can't really understand why Llewellyn has fallen so far or why we should care. Despite this, just as with the best noir literature and film, it's hard not to get caught up in Llewellyn's efforts to pull off a big one in the final twenty pages or so even as you secretly know it can only end badly.
On the whole, the crime element is pretty well done, and there are moments of dark humor here and there (my favorite line was "He swung the chain over his head like a rocker out hunting mods."). The writing is pretty sharp throughout, with the occasional overindulgence in philosophizing. The twin quotes that open the book, from The Pogues and Raymond Chandler, do a nice job of establishing the tone, however, unless you're particularly into fiction about alcoholics, that element tend to rather dominate the proceedings. A good read for those interested in Wales, alcoholics, or meandering crime fiction, a more marginal read for the rest of us.