Tuesday, November 13, 2012
No More Heroes by, Ray Banks
The history of the private eye genre is replete with heroes who wax on about the corrupt system and how one man can't make a difference. These tarnished knights still try and usually succeed in bringing about some kind of justice, even if the official line covers up some of the more egregious sins. Ray Banks falls squarely in the new tradition of noir which fully embraces the nascent nihilism of the genre.
Private investigator Cal Innes has fallen pretty far from when we met him in Saturday's Child. He and a fellow named Daft Frank perform evictions for slumlord Donald Plummer. No More Heroes opens with an eviction gone wrong and Cal getting the crap kicked out of him. The following day, Cal and Frank visit another house which promptly bursts into flames. Cal rushes in and rescues a trapped child. The newspapers make a hero out of him and the newfound notoriety, plus the accumulated physical abuse, makes him quit the evictions job and put up his PI shingle again. His first client is Plummer, who wants Cal to find out who burned his property. The search takes him back and forth between student protesters and the English National Socialists (think Aryan Nation).
From the various injuries sustained in the prior books, Cal has a bad back, a drinking problem, and a growing dependence on codeine. Like all addicts, he things he has it under control, but the repeated beatings he suffers in No More Heroes have him upping his dose so much he's popping painkillers like breath mints. The physical abuse takes it's toll on Cal to a devastating result. The climax of the novel takes place during a race riot between the ENS and the local Arab immigrants. Cal must collect evidence from a car right in the heart of the riot, but he's felled by a stroke before he can get it.
The accumulated toll of violence is one of the aspects that puts modern writers like Banks apart from his predecessors. PI's have always been punching bags, but few carry their injures from one novel into the next. I'm curious to see how Banks incorporates the stroke into Beast of Burden.
Another thing that sets him apart is the complete embrace of the genre's bleakness. Like I stated in the open, the official story might not be the whole truth, but the victims usually get some kind of retribution. Innes and a reporter found who burned down Plummer's properties, but it was easier for the reporter to blame it on the ENS. Much to Innes's dismay, the arsonists get away with the crime.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Banks doesn't wallow in violence. The beatings Innes takes are brutal, but they're not meant to titillate, shock, or disgust. You feel each bone-crunching blow and sympathize with Innes. The violence happens for a reason and is executed by people who feel they have no choice, not because they like inflicting pain.
Banks's bleak tone and stripped down prose neatly convey what working class life in various parts of Britain must be like. He is an author who deserves much more attention than he gets on either side of the pond. I count myself as a fan.
Banks and the Cal Innes series are recommended. Start with the first book to get the full impact of the series.