Top critical review
OK, but Nothing Special
on 20 April 2003
Liverpool's underworld comes alive in this Mean Streets/Goodfellas style tale of three South Liverpool friends who've grown up to be "respected" gangsters. The catalyst in the story is a plan by their leader, Ged, to set up one more easy score before bowing out of the game after twenty years. Of course, when in all gangster fiction and film, has that last score gone according to plan? The history of the threesome and various supporting characters unfolds in their alternating first-person accounts of the weeks leading up to Christmastime heist. The real story, however, is about how Ged is trying to be a "good" honorable gangster, and how Ratter has big big plans that Ged knows nothing about. This theme of betrayal is one of the most elementary in storytelling, and Sampson offers no new or interesting variations on it. There's never any doubt as to how it's all going to play out, and the only surprise is how abrupt and rushed the ending is. The real treat for most readers is going to be the first-person language, which is thick with Liverpool slang—which may be heavy going for some. And even though the threesome each have characteristic little turns of phrase, their voices tended to run together in my head.
There's a heavy dose of nostalgia running through it all, as the "faces" realize that the times are changing. For Ged and Moby (the third main character, an amiable thug who more or less follows Ged's lead, when he isn't having sex with strippers or forking over cash to his shrill wife), notions of "respect" and "honor" are dying off, as kids are running around strapped and willing to shoot at the slightest provocation. For Ratter, the past is an ugly place, and he's all to glad to be wheeling and dealing in properties and health clubs with greedy crooked politicians in the new era of crime. The book is really about the collision between these two belief systems, and while it's relatively engaging to watch it all play out, it's probably best enjoyed by those who have a strong Liverpool connection. A much better book about the one last heist is JJ Connolly's Layer Cake.