RARA-AVIS: REVIEW: Deadfolk by Charlie Williams

From: Maddy Van ( maddyvh@comcast.net)
Date: 25 Sep 2004

DEADFOLK by Charlie Williams Serpent's Tail October 2004

It isn't the poshest job, but working as Head Doorman of Hoppers Wine Bar & Bistro offers a certain amount of prestige for Roystan Blake-a chance to flirt with some of the birds, an occasional work-out of the muscles when a bloke gets rowdy. Blake has spent his whole life in Mangel, Britain's crappiest town; and it's rare that any of the locals ever leaves. He has a few friends that he hangs with, and he and his mates have a general loyalty to one another. On the other end of the spectrum are the Munton family who are almost like Mangel's underworld and with whom Blake has frequent confrontations.

Blake, a decidedly lower class individual, is proud of his job; so when he backs down in an encounter with one of the Muntons, word gets out that he has lost his "bottle", i.e., that he's lost his courage. The reality is that Blake believes this to be true and needs to get his bottle back. He's been sloppy about taking care of himself for the past few years, lost some of his heft, muscles gone to mush. You see, he's been in a bit of a funk after the death of his wife, who he was accused of murdering. But in an effort to regain his courage and reputation, he gets himself into another whole level of trouble after killing one of the Munton brothers. From there, things deteriorate, and Blake's problems escalate, with several more dead bodies being sent to the local cemetery along the way.

The earlier part of the book is completely hilarious. Blake's view of himself is completely at odds with the person that he really is. There's a certain element of pathos to his character, a kind of lovable and naļ¶„ loser who is mostly interested in moving up at Hoppers Wine Bar & Bistro and in driving his undependable Ford Capri 2.8i. Early on, his weapon of choice is his head. "I were skilled in every category of headbutt in the book. Straight, sidewinder, piledriver-you name it, I'd swung it. The secret, right, is to keep your neck relaxed and picture your swede like a demolition ball. Mark your target-nose or cheekbone is best-then swing that ball." And there's one specific headbutt that has a real impact on his future. As the book progresses, however, Blake starts to lose any semblance of control he had over his own behavior. He goes around in a fog killing people without really registering what he is doing. Giving Blake a monkey wrench or a gun is not a good idea.

At first, I had a problem with the fact that the book was written in the local Mangel dialect, and it took me quite a while before I was able to get into the character's voice. Once I did, however, I found being in his head to be a riotous yet horrifying trip. There's no sophistication to Blake, not much intelligence, so he operates pretty much on an "act now, consider later" basis. As he says, "I'd be the first to confess I wouldn't know a bright idea if it did a shite in me pocket." Self-analysis and remorse are definitely not going to be something you see in Blake's actions.

Over the course of the book, Blake disintegrates from a likeable loser who has a certain appealing bravado into a manic killing machine. I found the latter character hard to take. I preferred the Befuddled Blake to the Beastly Blake.

DEADFOLK is Williams' first book, and it's a completely original work. Well plotted, great dialogue, fast paced with touches of tenderness edging around the dark center, DEADFOLK is a book that the reader who prefers noir over nice will certainly appreciate. I know that I will be looking for Williams' future books, as he shows the promise of great things to come.

PS: For those of you who would like to visit Mangel, the crappiest town in Britain, here is The Mangel Informer on the Web: http://www.thisismangel.com/index2.html

Maddy Van Hertbruggen Crime fiction reviewer for:
    - I Love a Mystery Newsletter: http://www.iloveamysterynewsletter.com/
    - Reviewing the Evidence: http://reviewingtheevidence.com/

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