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by Chris Haslam
Abacus, June 2003
338 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 0349115907

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Martin Brock is a loser of a drug dealer with a nasty-tempered lowlife girlfriend holed up in the Andalusian mountains in Spain. He's scraping an existence selling drugs to holiday-makers on the Costa del Sol, whilst living in a bizarre village overlooked by a medieval castle. But he thinks all his Christmases have come at once when he inherits a motorbike and 500 kilos of pure cocaine.

This is a book for the Trainspotting generation as Martin attempts to shake off the bad guys who want their drug haul back. But it lacks Irvine Welsh's manic energy and black humour as Haslam presents his cast with almost dispassionate coolness. And whereas Patricia Highsmith made Ripley a guy you almost felt sorry for when he left a trail of bodies behind him, the reader is more likely to feel that Martin, despite his glint of self-awareness, is a sad git who needs to get a life -- unless you like your anti-heroes particularly anti, that is!

Haslam's relaxed and deadpan writing style works well for the cast of picaresque characters surrounding Martin, including scummy Brits, dotty Germans, weird Danes and murderous Frenchmen, whilst a soundtrack of anarchic radio stations crackles in the background. And while I was curious as to whether Martin would escape with his ill-gotten gains, it's not the kind of book which will keep you awake until 3am in the morning while you finish it.

It really comes alive in a couple of scenes -- one where Martin trades Spanish poetry quotes with a policeman whilst the French gangsters loom in the background, and in a confession scene when Martin takes refuge in a church and details his considerable sins to a priest desperate for his dinner. But there's more than enough here to make me want to read whatever Haslam writes next.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, July 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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