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by John Dalton
Tindal Street Press, June 2003
236 pages
ISBN: 0953589560

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The "mean streets" have shifted over a continent to Birmingham in the United Kingdom in this debut novel by John Dalton. The world that Dalton portrays is a dark one, full of amoral, immoral, barely moral characters. Gritty and realistic, it's not a place for the timid.

The book opens with something that appears to be a scam that goes out of control, ending with the murder of a prostitute by the name of Claudette. The expectation might be that nobody will care about her death, but that is untrue. Her mother, Bertha Turton, feels compelled not to let her daughter's death be unavenged. To that end, she hires a PI named Des McGinlay to find out who killed Claudette. Des is pretty much a deadbeat himself who's subject to behaving irrationally at times and currently wrestling with the fact that he's been dumped by his girlfriend and can't let go of the relationship. In fact, he may lose his license as a result of his latest rage episode where he smashed her car's windshield to smithereens.

The investigation takes us into the lives of an assortment of lowlifes: drug dealers, addicts, pimps, heavies. When the fact that there are some photos of the victim surfaces, the violence escalates and another woman ends up dead and others endangered. At the root of all evil is an underworld leader by the name of Felix Randall. When Des begins playing with the big boys, he finds that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. And that includes Bertha, who has many of the same charms as her daughter did.

Dalton excels at creating a noir atmosphere, peopled with some of the most undesirable characters you could imagine. In fact, the only person in the book who was in the least law-abiding was the detective inspector who Des sometimes provided with evidence and sought assistance from. Other than that, all of the characters are deeply flawed and essentially unlikable, although well drawn.

Dalton puts us squarely in the Birmingham scene through the vividly described setting and his use of dialog. However, the one real problem I had with the book was in his attempt at reproducing the speech of some of the Jamaican characters. I was completely lost at sentences like: "But she wasn' s'pose fi be out on the game..Back-a-yard dem have bleedin tin hut wid tea chest fi sit pon." I found myself having to read these several times in order to figure out what was being said.

Dalton does a good job of portraying a place where corruption rules and hope is an elusive fantasy. It looks like fans of noir have a new author to keep an eye on.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, September 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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