Criminal Thoughts is a short story collection based around a copper, gangsters, and men whose lives have fallen so low they curl up in shop doorways. It’s full of salty language and hard-hearted twists, written almost James Ellroy-plain. There’s a lot of laughs in the book, from Last Orders’ payoff, to the way people just insult each other. “Where the fuck did you get that uniform you fat bastard?” says one character to the brother he’s helping escape from the law, and though it’s not exactly witty, it’s characters’ familiarity with each other that sends the corners of your lips reaching for the ears.
Not that the collection is a comedy, it just knows when to play light and then when to punch you in the stomach. Where Brotherly Love ends in a wry smile, Clean Up pulls you down into the gutter and makes you wonder how people like this end up working for monsters, fearing what they do as much as what could happen to them. It’s brutal and it makes you put the book down for a bit, in need of recovery. You’ll need that moment, because The War that Took More, a short but powerful piece, is about a soldier who has experienced such brutality that he brings it home, ruining himself and those around him.
The book’s centrepiece is After Hours, a fun piece about a pub landlord, Mikey, and two dodgy characters who think they’re in control, but have no real idea who they’re trying to control. Control is a theme throughout the collection, or should I say lack of it. Some hide in the shadows, controlling others like puppets, some think they have it and a bullet tells them they don’t, and others know they have totally lost it.
An entertaining collection, then, with only Simmons’ Choice falling a little flat for me, the rest making my stomach jump around, or having me laughing.