Russell James has been named “the Godfather of Noir” by Ian Rankin. Russell writes crime novels - about criminals and victims, not the cozy procedural or whodunnit. He is the editor of Great British Fictional Detectives.
‘Slow-burning,’ said the Daily Mail (whether British or Australian, I couldn’t tell) and slow-burning it is, like a campfire on a wet day, when the damned thing sits on the ground and glows faintly. Cold pin-pricks of light. Won’t it ever catch fire?
The first 50 pages in particular are so slow – and so deliberately numbing, being told by a naïve tongue-tied teenager – that most crime-readers will chuck the book aside and reach for something pacier. After that 50-page introduction the story flickers into life, but they should have been cut down to 2. All right, perhaps 4. Womersley, I suspect, really wanted to write a ‘coming of age in the city’ novel and, like Donna Tartt in The Goldfinch, thought he could combine that with a crime caper.
Well, no. Crime-readers will tell you that it didn’t work for her, and it doesn’t work here. The coming of age tale is all right, in its way, if that’s what you wanted, but the crime story is underplayed.
A pity, really, since our hero gets dragged into quite an interesting art heist, along with some interestingly whacky characters. Womersley won a fistful of prizes with his first two novels but this one is, well, slow-burning, as they say.