Written by Ray Banks — Ray Banks is very much a crime writer’s crime writer, with a back catalogue full of dark and deviant grit, like Dead Money, previously reviewed here on Crime Fiction Lover. However, he deserves a much wider audience and his latest, Matador, could be the book which delivers it. Originally published in serial form, one instalment every two weeks sent direct to your Kindle, I can only imagine how readers who picked it up like this must have itched to receive the next part, because it is a real single-sitting novel.
A man wakes up in a shallow grave, trapped, terrified. He screams and dirt fills his mouth, but a survival instinct kicks in through the pain and the fear, and slowly, agonisingly, he digs himself out, and finds that a live burial is the least of his troubles. There’s a bullet lodged in his head and another in his body, his memory is gone, and the only clue to his identity is a ticket to a bullfight with a phone number scrawled on the back.
He stumbles into the nearest town and gets patched up by a local vet, finds a dive bar with a dubious clientele who seem to know him better than he knows himself right then. Calls are made, demands are uttered and violence ensues, but the dead man walking now knows his name at least – Rafael – and he’s found what looks like friend. The friend asks questions Raf can’t answer, before depositing him at a grubby, roadside brothel to recuperate. The girls there seem to know him too and as he rests up Raf begins to wonder what kind of man he is – married but frequenting whorehouses, with a friend who keeps a gun in his glove box. Is he really the innocent victim he’d like to believe he is, or is there a darker motive to his shooting? Did he maybe do something to deserve it?
The ticket to the bullfight leads Raf back into his forgotten life, one of violence, deceit and betrayal, with wide-boy British drug runners gunning for him the loved ones he can no longer remember are in line the of fire – his wife and son, and the man who trained him up into a formidable matador only to see him corrupted by ego. Raf’s on borrowed time, bloodied and beaten, and the only thing keeping him going is a desire for revenge on the men who left him for dead.
If you’ve read any of Banks’ previous work you’ll already know what an accomplished writer he is, given to dark humour and moments of extreme violence, adept at creating grotesque, memorable characters. It takes true confidence to centre a contemporary crime novel around a matador and talent to make it work, and it’s a huge credit to Banks’ skills that you never once question the credibility of the situation, or doubt the capabilities of his tough but flawed hero.
Matador is an intense read, by turns hallucinatory and razor sharp, a driving revenge piece tied to a Brit gangster actioner – think Sergio Leone meets Guy Ritchie, with far better dialogue. It’s an absolute must read for fans of the hard stuff.
Thomas & Mercer
CFL Rating: 5 Stars