Radgepacket - Tales From the Inner Cities (Volume Six)
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I interviewed Scottish crime author Ed James last year, and he mentioned the difference between English and Scottish fictions was in the grit that comes with the Scottish variety. In contrast, English crime fiction is all tea and scones. He noted that’s more the impression you get than the reality, and there’s plenty to counteract such a reputation.
Radgepacket is as far away from Agatha Christie as it’s possible to get, and all the better for it (note: I’ve never actually read an Agatha Christie novel, and I’m ready for any surprise bouts of cannibalism, low-rent thuggery, and sections set in boozers). It looks at the underbelly of British life. The stories make no excuses, pardons nobody, and thankfully none of the tales get all moral about the actions of their protagonists.
An example: Darren Sant’s contribution, A Good Day, is about a thieving sod who, during one bout of B&Eing, comes across a terrible situation. He saves the day, and you almost expect him to become a reformed character. Not a bit of it. The story ends with a bit of cheek, leaving you shaking your head and laughing.
There are a couple of stories which are more Danny Dyer than Michael Caine, but the Michael Caines are excellent. I think my joint favourite is the opener, Homeward Bound by Lee Kelly, about thuggery and self-delusion, with a great ending.
The short stories all feature a noirish lack of control, leading to bad decisions weighing on the shoulders of endless other bad decisions.
Jeff’s love of money and power in Carol Fenlon’s Paper Money overpowers his tender feelings, when he takes sexual favors as payment from a woman who he deems is screwing him over. His own horrific childhood cannot elicit enough sympathy for the woman’s two kids, who are left staring as he leads their mother to the bedroom. It’s a chilling little scene, but you have to love the ending when the money he loves counting more than sex holds no power.
My other joint favourite is the magnificent The Best Sportsman in the World by Danny Hill, about an unemployed man on disability benefit after a work accident, whose prowess at darts bolsters his dignity. Locals call him The Engine Man, more to do with his ability to down 20-25 pints a night than his performance at the oche. But once his doctor tells him he has ten years left if he carries on the way he is, he decides to cut down. Except he thinks his wife, Glenda, is starting to enjoy her control over him, setting expectations, controlling his diet, and generally telling him what to do. He can’t stand it and breaks from his constraints. Its ending is a beauty, making you feel for the man and his woman in a way you don’t quite reach in the rest of the stories.
It’s a top collection, and features the independent greats in British crime writing, such as Nick Quantrill, Darren Sant, Paul D Brazill, and Aidan Thorn.
Highly recommended.