Saturday, November 15, 2003

Paternal Recognition

Russell James has been described as 'The Godfather Of British Noir' and yet his official website is a rather garish and incongrous yellow. His latest novel No One Gets Hurt has courted some controversy by setting its underworld thrills in the seedy arena of porn and vice, and has a cover no sane reader would be caught dead reading in public. The satisfyingly devious and complex plot features a video journalist trying to identify/entrap the murderer(s) of her pretty young colleague who was working undercover on a porn film set. The journalist also discovers she's pregnant by her estranged boyfriend, who she later discovers may be implicated with the rogueish family of gangsters at the centre of the mystery.

James promises that his book is 'explicit, but not titillating' and while this is by and large true (the porn angle is all but forgotten by about halfway through the book) the author cannot resist little touches such as the undercover journalist rather enjoying the sex on the filmset, and her colleague barely murmuring her discontent when being roughly stripsearched. And yet at the same time, the book strives for a high moral tone about the porn scene, although at times is no more convincing in this than the hypocritical tabloid press. I could also have done without the moralising at the climax about the heroine forsaking her maternal responsibilities through focussing too much on her career, which teetered a little too near to sexist gibberish for my tastes.

Nevertheless, this uneasiness aside, it would be churlish to overlook the many positive aspects of the book. Punchy dialogue, fast-paced action, a good sense of milieu and some satisfyingly nasty and venal crooks make for a rivetting read despite the occasional overly paternalistic tone. The opening section, which climaxes with the offing of a major character, is brilliantly 'executed', creating a tension and dread that is sustained throughout the rest of the novel. Overall then, a more than servicable piece of ripe British pulp for those with a taste for dark nihilism, but it comes with a health warning: it ain't exactly a barrel of laughs and might make for depressing reading if you're not feeling pleasantly disposed to the world at the moment.


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