Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review of Paying For It by Tony Black (Preface, 2008)

Gus Dury used to be an up-and-coming journalist until he managed to break the nose of a Scottish Parliament cabinet minister with an unintentional headbutt. Having lost his job and also his wife, he drifts from one Edinburgh pub to another drowning his sorrows in endless pints followed by whisky chasers, living off the good will of his remaining friends. Then the son of one of those friends is found tortured to death, but the police seemingly have little appetite for finding his killer. Reluctantly, Gus agrees to use his old investigative skills to discover the reason for Billy’s brutal slaying and the killer’s identity. Descending into the Edinburgh underworld, he soon discovers that Billy had been running with a ruthless East European gang who were importing young girls, and that the gang leader, Benny Zalinskas, has powerful friends in high places. Uncovering Billy’s killer will be no easy task, especially when the next drink is always beckoning.

Paying For It is written from a first person perspective, the reader viewing the world through Gus Dury. And it’s the view from one step away from the gutter. Dury knows how to drink himself to oblivion, how to push those people that still care away, how to provoke dangerous people into a fight and then take the punishment. And yet he still retains some humanity and dignity, some semblance of journalistic righteousness and justice. For the most part I enjoyed the novel. Dury is plausible, the characterisation well realised, the dialogue believable. The prose is workmanlike, and the pacing good. At times though the story lacks credibility – Dury drinks so much, and takes beatings that would leave him so incapacitated that he’d hardly be able to function. And yet he soldiers on, with folk for the most part ignoring the battered and bruised state he's in. After a particularly savage beating in which he loses his teeth, his mother’s comment is that he looks like he needs a good feed! And there are a couple of continuity issues, such as Nadja losing her East European accent after the first couple of scenes, and a couple of puzzling questions concerning the resolution. Despite those issues, Paying For It passed a few pleasant hours and the teaser instalment of Dury’s next outing, Gutted, did its job.

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