Dash (Sunburn, 2015) offers an ensemble drama about violence, drug addiction, and sex trafficking set in a bleak underworld of London mobsters.
The author spins a complex web of plots and characters in this novel, but at its heart are three very different personalities: Kevin Tyne, a desperate young man willing to sell his own sister, Tulip, into prostitution; Clint Smith, a film-obsessed nebbish who wishes he was a gangster; and Big Sandy, an enforcer so loyal to his gang that he’s willing to sacrifice himself at any moment. What draws them all together is a catastrophically powerful experimental drug that has the potential to hugely profit its owners and also lay waste to entire communities. Clint steals its formula and forms a tentative alliance with Kevin and other unsavory men, while Big Sandy is sent to steal it back. The book flaunts the grim panache of a London crime saga, and all the characters are engaging, no matter how despicable they are. But its world can also be hyperbolically awful, as when Kevin demands to watch men have sex with his sister or when Gawl McCaskey, a psychopathic thug, impulsively slashes the arm of a random stranger; even the priest, Father Sebastian, has unspeakable sexual appetites. The dialogue is full of macho declarations, as when a mobster threatens a captured drug dealer: “If you tell me where the money is and what happened to the formula, I’ll shoot you through the skull….Otherwise…you’ll squirm for hours in the kind of agony no human can dream about until they’re subjected to it. Your call.” As exploitative as Dash’s characters are, though, he provides plenty of back story to justify their actions and attitudes. In the end, the author seems to delight in punishing his protagonists for their sins by shooting, strangling, and battering the life out of them. As a result, for the first 400 pages or so, the story occupies a moral gray area, but in the final chapters, there’s no question who’s evil and who’s pure.
Not for the faint of heart, but this novel’s character studies and ever shifting plot will excite fans of English noir.