I’ll start this review with a confession. I met Jay Stringer at a recent ‘Noir At The Bar’ reading session which occurred in the Old Fire Station, Carlisle (up here in the UK’s Middle-Land). He read an extract from his novel and it was well received. Only afterwards did I find out that he has dyslexia, and reading even his own words in front of the public must have been a doozie of a challenge. I got chatting to him afterwards and he was one of those conversationalists who has taken the the art of banter and humour to the utmost reaches of entertainment. Small wonder that he has dabbled with stand up comedy in a previous incarnation. This wit and humour completely infuses his book and is just one of the factors that makes it such an entertaining read. I’m not big on writing original blurbs and plot summaries that don’t give spoilers, so I’ll give you the essentials in bullet points:
• Set in Glasgow
• Main two protagonists are a hit man and a courier girl (pun not intended) who is also a private investigator named Sam Ireland. You’ll see her on the cover standing with a swagger (if that’s possible) holding a police cone.
• A rich cast of characters including rival mob bosses, local politicians, corrupt police detectives, bosom-buddy friends and oddball family members.
• Switching points of view from third person to first in a way that is genius rather than confusing.
• A plot which has no end of unexpected twists and turns, yet is held up by a brilliant conflict present in the assassin mc, namely; he’s growing tired of the profession and suffers from shakes and near panic attacks whenever he picks up a gun.
The strength is in Jay’s writing, particularly the dialogue. It is very reminiscent of Elmore Leonard, the go-to guy for character dialogue that pops and fizzes, keeping the reader glued to the page. I like that Jay has fleshed out a female lead with a unique character rather than your stereotyped alcoholic with demons from their past to contend with etc. Don’t get me wrong, Sam Ireland is complex and flawed but has unique traits that make her memorable.
Just to give you a taste of how Jay makes his narrative interesting and funny at the same time, here are a couple of quotes found in just one chapter from the pov of Alex – the guy who hires our assassin to fake his death convincingly:
‘There was an amber glow in the sky, like a giant pint of lager. This was like living in London. Alex smiled. If every day in Glasgow was like this, he wouldn’t mind living here.
Well, if it maybe didn’t have quite so many Glaswegians.’
Alex wasn’t the most observant guy in the world when it came to noticing what his wife was wearing. Other people, sure. Like young women. He noticed what they were wearing, because he noticed what they were not wearing. But his wife? Not so much.
To sum up, Jay Stringer’s ‘How to kill …’ is a novel for fans of Ian Rankin, Elmore Leonard, and (surprisingly) Douglas Adams (for the humour). Pick up your copy from here (US readers) or here (UK readers)