Williams, Conrad - 'Blonde on a Stick'
BLONDE ON A STICK is the first crime novel by award-winning fantasy and short story writer Conrad Williams and is set partly in Liverpool and partly in London.
The hero, PI Joel Sorrell, is persuaded to see a new client, Kara Geenan. Kara is a mysterious young woman who is convinced something dreadful has happened to her brother, Jason Phythian, even though she last saw him only the previous night. When Joel starts to visit Phythian's haunts, he is attacked and left fighting for his life by Gary Cullen, a criminal who has recently been discharged from a secure hospital. Recovering from his injuries, Joel then finds that not only has Kara vanished, but the low level criminal who introduced her to him has been killed. As Kara has recently been in frequent telephone contact with someone in Liverpool, Joel forces himself to return to Liverpool, the city of his childhood, to investigate quite why a complete stranger would try and kill him, and how Kara and Phythian are connected to this. Meanwhile we see the diary extract of a killer, a young man who grew up on the Wirral in Merseyside and calls himself "the four year old". The four year old is a very fit and highly dangerous violent young man who, supported by a mysterious woman, is attempting to obtain vengeance for his mother's suicide. His mother was a teacher and single mother whose life disintegrated after her boyfriend abandoned her.
Conrad Williams writes convincingly about the the two urban settings, London and Liverpool. He captures the language and football influenced culture of Merseyside very well. Joel can be a rather tough character to like. He is aggressive and foul-mouthed as a defence mechanism and overly dependent on alcohol, as he is struggling to cope after the murder of his wife, Rebecca, and subsequent disappearance of his teenage daughter, Sarah. His backstory is gradually revealed to us as the book progresses, but still leaving plenty to the reader's imagination (we are left none the wiser as to why he was so desperate to leave Liverpool and why he doesn't appear to be in touch with his family). The sinister "four year old" is shown in less detail, through the above mentioned diary section about a third of the way through the novel. The two different perspectives in the novel are given convincingly different voices, whilst both are clearly damaged by their pasts and struggling to maintain mature relationships with others.
BLONDE ON A STICK is a well written, gritty urban noir thriller that is not for the faint hearted due to a fair amount of violent content. Conrad Williams neatly subverts the cliches of the PI thriller, with his razor sharp writing.
Laura Root, England
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