Written by Declan Burke — This is a hard novel to describe. It combines crime, comedy and caper into a road trip across Europe. Essentially, in Crime Always Pays we follow £200,000 as it starts off in Ireland and makes its way to Greece, carried and pursued by criminals and the police alike.
The book is the follow-up to The Big O, an excellent read, and a necessity if you’re going to make sense of Crime Always Pays. Some back-story – Frank was a disgraced plastic surgeon who couldn’t afford the high life anymore so had his wife Madge kidnapped by Ray, an ex-armed robber, and Karen who used to work for Frank and was a close friend of Madge. Along for the ride is Anna, a huge dog.
Anna was mutilated by another of the other competitors, Rossi. He’s recently out of prison and is also Karen’s ex. Rossi is accompanied by Sleeps, a narcoleptic and driver for the said psychopath. Then there’s Terry, who Frank originally set the deal up with.
So at the outset of Crime Always Pays Rossi is on a vet’s operating table having been mauled by Anna the dog. He was saved from a certain death by the appearance of Ray and Karen – they take the bag of cash and hit the road, pursued by Rossi and Sleeps. They’re subsequently joined by travel agent Melody who Sleeps asks for advice. She wants to make a porn film and sees the guys as her ticket into adult cinema.
Frank is in hospital with his shot out knee. Doyle, a police officer, was handcuffed to him at the time and now wants to hunt down the money to repair her reputation. Finally there’s arch criminal Terry travelling with Madge, the woman who was abducted in the first place. Complicated? Well sort of…
As the action starts where the previous novel finished it feels like you’re being dropped into a process that’s already well underway, almost like a late arrival at a noisy house party. This creates instant intrigue although it can be confusing as there’s some catching up to do if you haven’t read the previous book. In addition this anticipated familiarity means there’s very little character background or description, just the odd line here and there, and well after the character has been introduced.
The strongest element of Crime Always Pays is Burke’s unique voice. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and written as if the author is looking at the world with his head tilted at 45 degrees or through the back of his eyeballs. A little bit different to the rest of us. As a result the prose is deceptively intelligent, languid and a joy to read.
However, this feels like a long book, even though the action is almost frantic, the chapters often very short and we step from one group of characters to the next in a constantly revolving merry go round. It’s relentless, with double crosses, trust issues and backstabbing galore. It’s a bit like a Simon Kernick novel on a Class A drug designed to increase the metabolism to astronomical levels. As a result you may feel like you need to lie down now and again while reading it. But this is a minor comment – just enjoy the shimmering prose and crackling dialogue.
Crime Always Pays is out 1 April.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars