Jones, Bruce Kennedy and Allison, Eric - 'The Last Straight Face'
This novel, a fiction debut for both authors, is described as 'hard-boiled and hard-hitting'. This couldn't be further from the truth. The complete lack of tension and predictable ending aside, what is REALLY annoying is the fact it is riddled with criminal slang. This must be to give it that 'edge' it says it has, but the actual effect is to leave the reader initially curious and reaching for the dictionary, then guessing at what the meaning is and, finally, not caring what the meaning is and being annoyed by the vagueness instead. Some kind of glossary at the back would have helped enormously.
In brief, a 'straight face' career criminal is released from Strangeways prison, after serving an 18-month sentence for possession of 'brown'. Although a rather unpleasant person, he has genuinely been set up for this particular crime and comes out of prison determined to find the person responsible for framing him, as well as their motives. His first act as a free man, however, is supposed to be enjoying dinner out with his kids. To his utter shock and dismay his ex-wife has disappeared and taken their children with her, his nephew has been murdered and some of his former best mates are starting to act shifty around him. It also looks as if he is in the frame for something and he quickly has the police on his tail once more.
The whole book describes his quest to solve the mystery of his absent children, as well as find out what actually happened to his nephew and why the police want to lock him up again when he has only just been released. There is the odd moment when the tension rises a tiny bit. For example, your blood races a little when he hears a loud alarm clock going off one morning and, after ignoring the sound at first, suddenly realizes that it means trouble and that he must find out where it is coming from. He is very worried and runs madly in the general direction of the sound, trying to find it and hoping it isn't too late. Not knowing what he knows, but guessing that it is important, does begin to steer the book towards 'hard hitting' stuff. As does the scene where he is after Sean, a drug addict, for some information and lies in wait for him. The rest of the story is pretty tame. Not at all what you would expect from the pen of an investigative journalist specializing in crime nor from someone else formerly described as 'among the top echelons of British criminals'.
Overall, despite the exciting sounding precis on its back cover, this book is extremely disappointing. I was not drawn to sympathize with any of the characters, except, maybe, the ex-wife and kids, nor really gripped by what happened at the end of the story. I can only hope that this last 'straight face' - whatever that means - hangs up his burglary boots, goes on the holiday he has been promising himself for ages and doesn't return to haunt us by being serialised!
Read another review of THE LAST STRAIGHT FACE.
Amanda C M Gillies, Scotland