Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Returning Hero

Ray Banks: Saturday's Child

I'm always interested, both professionally and personally, in series fiction with recurring characters. I wrote a series of 5 time travel books (one remains unpublished) from 1985 through 2003. When you're working a series like that, you always have to deal with several nagging, ongoing problems: how much the characters should change over time, and how much backstory do you present in each succeeding book. I'm presently reading a terrific series by Ray Banks, and it's interesting to see how he handles these problems, especially how he handles his character's changes.

Allow me an aside. When I reached the third in my time travel series, Till the End of Time, I had grown sick of writing the female lead character. Each book would star the hero, Alex Balfour, as he flitted helplessly back and forth in time, while in the present, his girlfriend, Molly, would have her own parallel adventure. By the third book, this structure had grown cumbersome and onerous, so I thought, what the hell, I'll kill the love interest off. Big mistake. I can't say I had all that many readers, (if I did I'd still be writing the series) but those I did have howled when Molly died. Whenever I did a reading or library event, the chorus was always the same: bring Molly back, which I eventually did in In Time of War. It was tricky to pull off, but I figured, it's a time travel book, is anyone ever really dead?

Anyway, the Ray Banks, Cal Innes, series I'm reading: Saturday's Child, and Sucker Punch are available in the U.S. The third and fourth books, Donkey Punch and No More Heroes are available as imports and will be published in this country in 2010 and 2011.

I'm reading them out of order. I reviewed, glowingly, the second book, Sucker Punch, and loved it so much I ordered the first book from Amazon just for my own reading pleasure. I never do that. When you're facing a continual stream of Books That Must Be Read you just don't have the time or the energy to read on the side for fun. That shows you how much I love Banks' books.

His hero Cal Innes is a hard lad from Manchester who has done time and after prison turned himself into a sort of private eye. He works out of a boxing gym and is always trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but his criminal connections are strong, the police are always attempting to jail him and his penchant for extreme violence keeps him one small misstep away from a serious beating, (he gets plenty of those) a new stretch in jail, or death. He's a great character.

The usual author and publisher modus is to establish a character and a series commercially and then milk it until there's not a drop of either blood or money left in the concept. And who can blame them? That's what I'd like to do. (Are you aware that there are now 37 books in the Robert Parker, Spenser series?) But that's not what Banks has done with Cal Innes. He changes from book to book, and what he does to Cal in the last book is stunning indeed. If you'd like to know what happens eventually to Cal Innes, you can find out here in an interesting discussion about this question. If you want to read the series and discover on your own, all four of the books can be found on Amazon.

All that aside, it's Banks' writing that is so flat out wonderful. Funny, noir, an original voice that at times is beyond comprehension, at least for American readers. I'm going to give you a chunk of it to show you what I mean. This is from the first book, Saturday's Child. The speaker is a character, Mo, who is Cal's enemy. He and his mates are in a nightclub:

“So Baz went straight for the bar with a proper thirst on and me and Rossies held back, scanned the territory. I always like to keep Rossie with us, because he looked like a card-carrying hard fuck when he needed to. He stopped any bother before it happened. It were still early, but it seemed like they was rolling out tunes especially for me. This one's a fucking thumper for the Tiernan lad, welcome to the club, and the punters'll be lining up round the fuckin' block to buy.

“Oi oi, you lahky peep-holes. N-tsh-n-tsh-n-tsh.

“Business went fast, kept the night banging underfoot. I sorted it out, got me turnover turned over sharpish, like. A half-decent DJ spinning. And some blond piece wanted a piece of Mo. I had to knock her back, like. Not that I were one not to mix business and pleasure, but she had tan lines and smelled rank.

'What's that perfume, love?' I said.

'J-lo!' she shouted. 'Does it suit us, you think'?

'Well, you got the arse for it.'

“She got all pissy at that, but what the fuck were I supposed to say? She were fat as yer mother. More in Rossie's league, know what I mean? He'd fuck mud, If mud'd have him.”

I could go on and quote the entire book. If you like original characters, dialogue like the above, a bit of violence and some laughs, hunt down Ray Banks. Then you can come back here and thank me for it.

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