The owner of the No Alibis bookshop in Belfast uses his vast knowledge of crime fiction to run a sideline private investigation service, as long as it doesn’t involve any danger or straying to far from the city. He’s hired by Billy Randall, the owner of a no-frills airline, to track down two vandals who have videoed themselves painting an enormous cock onto his forehead on a giant billboard, and then posted it up on YouTube. Accompanied by Jeff, his student worker, and Alison, his occasional girlfriend, and somewhat encumbered by his battleaxe mother, the nameless shopkeeper soon discovers who the culprits are, but shortly afterwards they are murdered. In order to prove his innocence he sets out to discover who the real murderer is, but the only clue is the disappearance of a stuffed Jack Russell dog which had a very important owner. It seems though that he is not the only person with an interest in the dog, with the police, MI5 and a Belfast gangster also in the hunt. What’s so important about this dog? And why were the two vandals killed?
It’s quite some time since I read a Bateman novel. In fact, the last time was when he hadn’t dropped Colin from his name. I think I read the first seven or eight of his books, stopping around Mohammad Maguire and Shooting Sean, which seemed a bit thin and tired compared with his earlier work. Divorcing Jack is, however, still in my top ten reads, a brilliant debut novel. So, it was a good to tuck into The Day of the Jack Russell to resample his work. As with his other novels, TDJR is a comic crime caper, laced throughout with humour, gags, and oddball characters, and I found myself laughing out loud on a fair few occasions. Bateman’s writing is witty and engaging and the pages fly by. He has a natural gift for crafting dialogue, which crackles off the page. The only thing that riled was the main character, who to put it bluntly is a bit of a wanker – a condescending, anally-retentive, know-it-all megalomaniac and hypochondriac. Heaven knows what Alison, his supposed girlfriend, sees in him. I know that’s how he’s meant to be, but as a narrator I found him all but impossible to warm to. The plot just about holds together given the madcap action and an investigation style that specialises in leaps of faith based on the plot devices of various classic crime novels. Overall, an entertaining read, and worth checking out if you like comic crime capers.