Deadfolk by Charlie Williams is part of the AmazonEncore series, a series which hopes to bring to light work by new authors or authors whose previous work deserves more attention. In the case of Deadfolk, originally published by Serpent's Tail in 2004, I'm certainly glad they did.
I admit, two things first drew me to this book: the cover, an angry fly w/ splotches of blood on its wings and legs; and the author's name, which is very similar to an American Noir writer of the 1950s (Charles Williams). I'm a big fan of Noir novels from the early Gold Medal paperbacks era and when I read the description blurb, I realized this one would take place in the U.K. I've never read any noir-ish books from that area so this sounded like a good chance.
Honestly, in order to get more readers, the product description could be better. To read it, it doesn't sound like that much of a story - about a guy who's "lost his bottle" or his mojo, ala Austin Powers except w/ grimmer circumstances. In the first 70 to 80 pages the book does makes you think, You've got some great characters here but I sure wish there were more for them to do. While you're contemplating that the bottom drops out and you find yourself smack dab in the middle of one helluva noir. You also find that though the author shares a name w/ a pretty famous scribbler of 1st person noirs, the author he most closely resembles is that other titan of the same era, Jim Thompson.
The characters that populate this novel are brash, loud, ornery, uncouth, unsettling - but it's written so well, so much like you're sitting in a pub listening to some old rabbel-rouser, that I was hooked. Even during the less active chapters at the beginning, I couldn't help but want to see what would happen next, if only because I loved the song of the Cockney English on full display. This is where Williams really shines. He's a natural storyteller and the music lulls you into the story's world w/ the first sentence.
Each character is also fully realized, not just the narrator, Blake. Each of his mates and would-be-lovers is fully developed to the point that you feel like if you were ever to take a plane to England, you could call up one of these folks and they'd say, "Sure, mate, come on down. We's gots a place that you kin stay." They might just rob you and belt you over the head while you were there, but then that would be part of the experience.
The town of Mangel where all the action takes place is as much a character as the denizens who populate it. By following Blake as the novel becomes more active you will feel as though you're right there in a dusty, ill-lit bar, or riding down a Mangel street in one of many cars, about which Blake has lots of tell you. Blake is a gearhead and spends several paragraphs detailing the good and the bads of each model. I don't know anything about cars, but from what Blake says, it sounds the way a race car driver or a collector of fine European automobiles would coo over their latest purchase, all the while Blake is driving a regular ol mid-level car. All of his run downs about the intricacies of own such-and-such a car had me grinning from ear to ear. He's a classic B.S.'er, but you still have to love im.
As some of the other reviews have pointed out, this book is definitely not for the squeamish. There's a fair amount of sharp language on each page and by the last page the violence is ratcheted up to 10. So, fair warning on that. I didn't find any of it gratuitous; Blake is just depicting the world in which he lives and the people who feel trapped there and use sex and violence as their "outlets".
The only thing I would suggest, and the only thing that keeps me from giving this all five stars, is that it's a slow start. You love the characters from the very beginning, but there just isn't much they do. It's more like you're meeting everyone and, Blake being a seasoned raconteur, eases into the story w/ no great haste. It's charming in a way, but I think could cause some potential readers to feel turned off that not enough is happening. Plus, the same material is sprinkled periodically throughout the remainder of the text, so isn't truly necessary.
But all in all, this is a fine read. But do avoid if you have a weak stomach :)