Written by Tom Benn — Last year, Tom Benn’s Chamber Music gained plenty of praise for its gritty portrayal of the Manchester club scene and the criminals that inevitably surround it. Now his anti-hero Henry Bane is back in the third novel in the series, Trouble Man.
The action moves forward a decade to the end of the millennium. The Manchester underworld is bracing itself for change. For many years the spoils of crime have been divided up between the Barker brothers, Stanley and Warren, with a fragile peace in place. Stanley, or perhaps his wife Kara, retains a strong grip over his crew, but Warren hasn’t been seen for some time. His empire seems in disarray, and the rumour is he will soon die of cancer. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the whole of Manchester seems to be holding its breath to see how things play out.
Bane is in the middle ranks of Stanley’s organisation, nominally running the Billy Club, but in reality he is at the beck and call of Abafro, who lives in a luxury flat above the venue. Abs also has Bane training one of the club’s doormen, Gordon, for an unlicensed boxing match due to take place on New Year’s Eve against a fighter from London. Both local pride and a lot of money are at stake.
But things are more complex than a simple bout to prepare for. Bane is having an affair with Abs’ girlfriend, and with the big man bending Bane’s ear about marriage, his betrayal could mean a bullet for him if he’s caught. His teenage son, Trenton, has his first serious girlfriend, who turns out to be the estranged daughter of Warren Barker, and Barker is dead set on playing happy families even if the girl and her mother want nothing to do with him. Bane is also now the grass of Detective Glassbrook, having to keep him up to date with everything that’s going on. He has Bane comitting crimes for him as the police seek to shape events, rather than just react to them.
Then Bane and Gordon come across a traumatised young girl, who is the latest victim of a sadistic serial killer who tortures homeless people for days, using leeches, before killing his victims. Bane feels compelled to help the girl, but with Glassbrook not interested he has to carry out his own investigation. When Trenton’s girlfriend, Coleen, goes missing, Bane knows she’s either in the hands of the killer or her father Warren Barker. It’s not clear which fate would be worse. He has to save the girl, and stop his own life from unraveling, as he tries to prepare for the biggest night of the century.
There really is a lot going on in this book, but thankfully it is free of the kind of exposition lesser writers might use. Benn trusts both his own narrative skills, and the reader, and the decision pays off. Trouble Man is a multi-layered reading experience, rich in action, and reveling in local colour and atmosphere. Bane is a compelling charachter, rich in contradiction, a wide boy but also mature beyond his years. With Trouble Man, Henry Bane has come of age. So has Tom Benn.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars