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by Ray Banks
Polygon, May 2007
224 pages
9.99 GBP
ISBN: 1904598854

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Cal Innes is an ex-con who is a caretaker at a Manchester boxing club. He's asked by club owner Paulo to accompany a promising young fighter to Los Angeles for a competition. Naturally it's not that straightforward.

DONKEY PUNCH is an above-average attempt at noir by Scots-born writer Ray Banks. It's not bad, but just not that remarkable. Cal's a total loser, so it's hard to have much sympathy for him. Liam, the lad he's accompanying, is supposed to be snotty and abrasive, but he actually comes across as pretty sane and sorted, unlike Cal, who pops pills like they're going out of fashion.

The book is obviously second in a series, but there's little in the way of recapping. Lots of cryptic comments are made about something happening to Cal in Newcastle, but we're never told what it was.

The book's main problem is its lack of tension and menace; it's actually more a pale shade of grey than noir! The premise is good boxing clubs seem a natural environment for this sort of book and I'm always surprised they're not used more. Married to this is a supposedly rigged boxing competition, a mysterious former boxer who battens on to Cal and Liam, and a scene in the desert where Cal finds himself on the wrong end of a gun (and no, this isn't a spoiler there isn't a lot of plot to spoil in this book!)

The scenes in Manchester work best, as the run-down pubs and boxing club contrast with the glitzy, rebuilt city centre. In fact, it would have been interesting to have seen how the whole book panned out in the UK, rather than upping sticks to LA. If Banks was aiming at showing the fish out of water in the strange city, who's suddenly left to swim, it didn't really work.

Banks is a writer to watch, based on his sharp prose and dialogue. If his plotting and pacing looks up, the next book could really soar.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, April 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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