|GUN: A NOVELLA
Ray Banks (www.thesaturdayboy.com)
Here’s this week’s shameful secret: while I’ve been aware of Ray Banks for a number of years (a signed copy of his The Big Blind has been sitting on my shelves for close to five years), he’s not an author I’m at all familiar with. Gun, a short, sharp tale with a sting is my first exposure to his work.
It is the story of Richie, a young man on parole after serving eighteen months at a young offenders’ institution who, in an effort to get some money quickly and easily, breaks a promise to his pregnant girlfriend, and approaches Goose – the man for whom he has just served time – looking for a job. The job is a simple one: go and see a man named Florida Al and purchase a gun. But when Richie is mugged by a group of young thugs when he steps out of Florida Al’s house, his day takes a turn for the worse, and the job becomes a lot more complicated than it should have been.
Gun is old-school noir fiction at its best. From the opening pages, we’re made aware of the futility of Richie’s situation: he has just spent time in prison when naming the man for whom he was working would most likely have gained him his freedom. On returning to the same man now looking for work, he discovers that Goose has no recollection of who he is. This is a vicious circle that is unlikely to end well for the teen. And he is well aware that this is the case. But collecting a gun, while risky, is an easy job, and might just set him up with enough money to find a decent job with which he can support his family.
A detailed description of the storyline would sound outlandish and comical, moving as it does from one encounter to the next; it is anything but. It remains plausible throughout and while there is a vein of dark humour running throughout, it’s a dark and violent piece of fiction showing a day in the life of a teenage hoodlum in modern-day Newcastle. We’re introduced to a cast of realistic characters, none of whom – Richie included – have any redeeming features, and taken through a series of encounters that grow increasingly violent until the final bitter twist. You may discover at that point that you’ve been holding your breath for some time.
In Gun, Banks asks very little of the reader. Half an hour will see you through the story, and there are no mysteries to solve or convoluted plot points to decipher along the way. So for the payoff to be this satisfying, this worthwhile, is a nice surprise. It makes this novella an absolute must-read for lovers of noir in particular and – to be honest – good crime in general.