Written by Keith Nixon — Caffeine Nights is one of our partners for New Talent November 2014, and author Keith Nixon is a contributor to our site. The cynical amongst you might therefore figure the fix is in, but at Crime Fiction Lover take our responsibility to provide impartial advice about what your next crime fix should be seriously, and not even a visit from the author’s ex-KGB Agent Konstantin Boryakov could persuade us to be derelict in our duty.
Nixon has previously released three Konstantin ebook novellas – Dream Land, Plastic Fantastic and Fat Gary – and these are collected here with four new ones. Consequently the book can be read either as a story collection or a novel, and works equally well each way.
The book begins with Dream Land, wherein Konstantin arrives as something of a mystery. He is Russian by birth, but fluent in English, and rather handy in a tight spot, which is where he finds himself when the story begins. Konstantin has been sent to Margate by the secretive Mr Lamb, and fixed up with digs, but to what purpose we never find out. Before he can get himself squared, Konstantin is accosted by three muggers, and whilst fighting them off proves no problem, one of them, known as Dave the Rave, is a dealer, and disposing of his gear will prove to have consequences further down the road.
Plastic Fantastic, the next story, introduces Fidelity, a dominatrix who is Konstantin’s neighbour and the pair will strike up a tender friendship over the course of the book. The story is a twisty – and twisted – tale about bondage-obsessed councillors, loan sharking and prostitution, which covers some pretty dark themes while still managing to entertain in a light-hearted way. The pair’s further misadventures take them around the South Coast, into London, and even up North and on each occasion thugs and ne’er–do-wells will have their plans undone by Fidelity’s craftiness and Konstantin’s street smarts.
In fact, Plastic Fantastic could be considered a template for all of the novellas included here. Nixon is not afraid to explore some of the more seedy sides of British life – the sex industry, homelessness, urban decay – and his characters are far from two-dimensional sketches. Konstantin is an alcoholic, homeless, and burdened by guilt over previous misdeeds, and regret over the family he will never know. Fidelity presents a picture to the world of a hard-ass woman in control, but battles with insecurity so deep-rooted that she can never allow herself to be helped by another.
But rather than a remorseless grim-fest that left me dreading turning the page, Nixon has delivered a book that had me laughing out loud and mentally fist-pumping every time his heroes got one over on the bad guys. There is an off-beat humour to the writing, which initially seems almost slapdash, but which builds over the course of one or two stories into a recognisable style, somewhat reminiscent of fellow Brit Grit author Paul D Brazill. The ability to get his readers onside, rooting for his messed-up characters as they battle against the daily grind of chancers and blaggers is uniquely his, and stands as testament to his writing chops.
If you like your crime fiction hardboiled, where the mean streets are peopled with even meaner criminals, then Russian Roulette is the feel-good hit of the year.
Russian Roulette is released on 17 November.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars