Written by JJ Connolly — Maybe you’ve seen the film Layer Cake, or read the book? Well Viva La Madness is the next episode in the life of the nameless cocaine dealer who narrates the story. People have called Connolly’s writing Brit Grit, Layer Cake had a similar feel to Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock films, and it’s claimed that Layer Cake was a bestseller and Britain’s most shoplifted book at the same time. But don’t let any of that put you off.
After Layer Cake’s harrowing conclusion, our hero is treading water in the Caribbean, itching for a return to the gangster life he left behind. He’s still a wanted man in the UK. Morty, another character from the earlier book, gets in touch and soon enough appears with two robust London criminals – the aggressive and menacing Sonny King, and his paranoid partner Roy ‘Twitchy’ Burns. They’re in the Caymans to launder three trunks of cash and to bring our man back to London, on a false passport. A shady figure higher up the narcotics food chain wants to enlist him.
It turns out that while the narrator is being drawn into the new venture, in the background bigger and more powerful syndicates are making moves and Sonny King has unknowingly instigated conflict involving Venezuelan cartels, the London mob and some Brazilian assassins. And of course, one of the diabolical Venezuelans has a beautiful twin sister who is also embroiled in the intrigue – sex, drugs, multi-millions, torture and bullets to the head are all on the menu.
Like the title suggests, it’s madness.
King, Burns and the other criminals are wonderfully written and it’s interesting to see how strong characters lose their nerve or behave like children when things go south. Meanwhile others, who are trodden on or brushed off early on, come into their own. Connolly, whether he’s met real gangsters or not, observes people extremely well. His diction gives it a gristly texture too – it’s all ‘roided up geezers, birdlime, snouts, swells, cozzers and gettin’ one in the canister. But don’t worry, it’s not written in full-on Cockney dialect, you’ll pick it with ease.
Now and again the narrator’s second hand telling of back story slows the pace too much, but that’s its only fault. Viva La Madness is a gripping read, plenty happens and there’s a great ending. With Connolly’s wild array of underworld characters swishing around London trying to kill or cut deals with one another, you just have to keep reading. Who, if anyone, makes it out alive?
CFL Rating: 4 Stars