Top positive review
What 'indie' was made for
24 March 2015
This book is of the type for which the 'indie' or self published world was made - fearless, quality writing that would probably never get taken on by a traditional publisher or larger independent press, because it fits into no established genre and would perhaps not appeal to the mass market, but for style and talent can rival the best and leave half of them standing. This is the sort of novel that reaches cult status; maybe in five years' time people will be saying, "What, you haven't read City of Criminals? Where have you been?"
I read it over a period of a couple of days and would have finished it sooner if I'd been able to. It's terrific.
In brief: Terry Valentine is an ex-con, a part-time crackhead, a football hooligan in his youth, and a small-time crook with a chip on his shoulder about the middle classes and control of the populace by the rich. Rapidly going to seed, he gets an emotional kick in the pants when he takes on the job of driver to young lesbian prostitute Chloe, and falls in love with her. Once he gets into his head that she needs saving from her major client (who happens to be in the love with her, too) and the gangsters who control her, all thoughts of a reconciliation with his one time love, sexy dope fiend Marge, go out of his head.
At first I worried that the free flowing writing style of narrative interspersed with Terry's inner dialogue, together with the lack of speech marks in conversation, might get on my nerves or even seem a little contrived, but it doesn't - it really works, more so as the book goes on, and is perfect for this story. Mark Barry knows what he's doing. The dark and dangerous underclass of brutal criminals, football hooligans, drug users and gamblers is obviously one he understands so well, too; I liked that the language of the world between the pages is not explained by some patronising glossary at the back of the book; if you're not sure exactly what is meant by a phrase or word on its first outing you soon pick it up, or if you don't it doesn't really matter.
Barry has written before about a man with a serious dark side who falls hopelessly in love with and thinks he can save a woman half his age (in Carla), but this is an entirely different sort of novel, and by far his best of the ones I've read, I think. What struck me most was that in the first half of the book Terry Valentine just seems like a bit of a sad case, but as the story moves on to violent confrontation you start to understand the mind of the type of man for whom only a fairly constant supply of class As (and large amounts of black market prescription medication) can replace the thrill of the brawl. Although his feelings for Chloe are the basis for the whole story, it's about so much more.
You'll like this book if you appreciate brilliant, sparky writing that doesn't nod to convention, if you have any interest at all in the football violence of the 1980s and gangsters in general, if the 'c' word and decidely unromantic sexual reference doesn't make you wince (actually, I found the sexual depiction in this book a lot less cringe-making than the would-be erotica added to many otherwise not particularly sexy novels these days. It's real, it's not written purely to titillate). You'll like it if you're not put off by the mention of blood, and if you enjoy reading sharp, edgy, contemporary drama by a novelist who knows his stuff and isn't afraid to use it.
I couldn't put it down, abandoning my own work-in-progress in order to finish it. It's fab, it really is.