Now, I read at the pace of an autistic monkey, but I burned through this thing in an afternoon. I don't care who you have to blow to get your hands on a copy, or how long it takes for Amazon to send it by Sherpa (I'm still waiting for Donkey Punch to land on my doorstep), you need to read this book. This is what doing it right looks like.
Here's a synopsis:
It's Manchester's hottest summer on record and while Callum Innes evicts families on behalf of local slum lord Donald Plummer, the English National Socialists stir up racial tensions to breaking point. A firebomb attack at a Plummer property thrusts Innes into the spotlight as he saves a child from the burning building. But when Plummer enlists his help to track down the arsonists, Innes finds himself dealing with more than the ENS and his rapidly overwhelming codeine addiction. Time's running out and the temperature keeps rising. Manchester needs a hero and Callum Innes is the closest it has.Detective novels follow a particular pattern. P.I. gets a job, asks a bunch of questions, finds clues, solves the mystery. That's what makes it a detective novel. But that, like the synopsis, doesn't begin to approach what Banks does with the story.
The plot is important, obviously, and he does an excellent job telling it. He works it on several different levels, keeping it intimate and real. But it's his portrayal of Cal Innes that really makes it. He's not a conventional PI. He always looks like he's playing at it, like a kid wearing Daddy's shoes. He says he's a PI, so people believe him. But he can't convince himself.
And when he saves a kid from a burning building and gets painted with the hero brush by the local paper, he can't believe that, either. He's a fuck up, after all. Takes too many pills. He's a waste of breath. Watching him struggle against who he thinks he is to try to become the hero people are telling him he is is an intimate and visceral experience.
Innes has a substance that makes him believable. He's indecisive, second guesses himself. He gets hurt, badly, and doesn't spring back. He has injuries from previous books that still plague him. He has a codeine addiction that willpower alone won't fix. Hell, at the rate he's going I'm not sure he can survive another few books.
And that, ultimately, is what makes this book work. Everything has consequences. There are no neat endings. Innes ends in a different spot on his journey to be the best man he can, but it's painfully clear that he's still got a long way to go.