This is the second short-story collection by Aidan Thorn (the other is Criminal Thoughts). It’s populated by thugs, gangsters, desperadoes, and the odd good egg. Thorn writes about characters formed on estates, who want to do good, but have had the joy beaten out of them by circumstances. In the first story Loathe Thy Neighbour, the protagonist visits his mum on the council estate where he grew up, only to see the place ruined by feral creatures. His mum is worried sick about events. The son, now a gangster running his life elsewhere, sees how little community the place holds and is determined to set some things right.
The story typifies the collection – brutality, class, circumstances setting residents on a treadmill to nowhere, with only outstanding talent allowing escape. Mediocrity is enough only for those lucky not to have grown up there. The only means of a ‘better’ life for many is crime, such as working for Thorn’s central bad guy – Tony Ricco, a man so slimy he adopts an Italian-sounding last name to make him sound like a mafioso. Ricco has his turf, his informants, and policemen in his pocket. He’ll cut you to little pieces if you cross him, and murder your family for good measure. He’s a terrifying figure that litters many of the stories here, and Thorn writes him so he gets under your skin.
A couple of stories seem a little undeveloped, such as Trick or Treat Or…, which ends flat, but there’s plenty of good stuff here. The collection beams at the end with A Sporting Chance, about a footballer, Jason, whose injury has cut his Premier League career short before it kicked into gear. Now he’s living back home with his mum and looking for a job. After taking a beating down a back alley, he finally finds one with his rescuer – Tony Ricco. It catches the pain of anyone born outside moneyed circles, who are on the cusp of something life-changing only for circumstances to bring it all crashing down. Jason’s fall is epic. From almost making big money playing football, he ends up running a gym and selling dodgy products to shady fellas round the back. When he’s made witness to something terrible, he’s trapped forever.
I’d like to see Thorn develop this character into something that sprawls across a novel’s length. How a man, who could have been a contender, copes with his new dirty life and a boss who might cut him to pieces at any slight, would definitely have the pages turning.
A good read.