To begin at the beginning: if you are deeply offended by swearing and bad language, especially if it is done by an authority figure like a police superintendent, then you should not read this book. If you expect a police procedural to be written as an Adam Dalgleish investigation, conducted with the beautiful manners that he exemplifies, then this is not the book for you. If on the other hand, you are looking for the Welsh equivalent of Tartan Noir, you may well have found gold dust. [I wonder what they call the Welsh equivalent of Tartan Noir. I could suggest Iechyd Noir, except the Saesneg would never be able to pronounce it, which rather undermines the idea of a genre name for selling books.]
Anyway, this is a romp through the Cardiff underclass. It centres around Danny Daggers who has become a YouTube sensation because he ate a piranha on video. If that does not give you an idea of what you are in for, then I will try to do so without giving too many details of the plot away.
The story begins with the body of Danny Daggers having been found in the River Taff, and the assumption that a tramp has committed a murder. But Rory Gallagher, a local journalist, whose career trajectory has been from Aberdeen to Cardiff via London, is able to corroborate the tramp’s alibi by finding a dead, gutted seagull near the crime scene. The story then sets out to explain how Danny Daggers came to be found dead in the River Taff. The first thought of the local police is to blame the Amstell brothers, a family of not very intelligent Cardiff lowlifes, who have been on a murderous rampage through the city since Simon, the eldest, escaped from prison a few days prior to the murder. Rory Gallagher and Ji Eun, a Korean student on work placement as a journalist, get caught up in all this, as do various others. And it is the interlocking of these various stories together that forms the basis of the plot.
The problem I had was that I was not able to sympathise with the characters, which is not to say that I did not want to know what happened next. This book is a real page turner. You might not like the characters, but you do want to know what disaster is about to fall on them. I suppose that Rory Gallagher and Ji Eun could be sympathetic, if Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson had not destroyed the idea of the investigative journalist as hero. Joseph could be sympathetic except for his ability to deliberately start fights. The Amstell brothers are just thugs, even if they do not deserve what they get. And so it is possible to work through the whole range of characters until you come to Danny Daggers himself, an amoral hedonist lacking redeeming features. And, of course, you know he is going to die because that is where the story starts.
The story however is told with a verve that will carry you forward. You will be caught up in wanting to know what happens next. The stupidity of the central characters will leave you breathless. The situations in which they find themselves will make you gasp. You will probably feel sorry for them even though you do not like them. You will worry that this is an accurate vision of a society created by Thatcher and Blair over the last 30 or so years, a society based on consumerism with nothing of substance to consume.
And you will end up feeling sorry for Tom, who is caught up in the maelstrom, and who will probably have to take the blame.