Sharp and funny rock ’n’ roll elegy to youth and a disappearing way of life as Wales joins Europe’s shiny future.
Unfolding simultaneously in 1980 and 1999, the story continues Williams’s fond and vivid portrait of Cardiff, last seen in his collection Five Pubs, Two Bars and a Nightclub (1999), this time with the tale of the Wurriyas, a one-hit ska band. After nearly 20 years, ex-Wurriyas guitarist (and womanizer—art students and “little Goth girls” mostly) Mazz, approaching 40, returns to Cardiff, where his career began. While Mazz toured with second-billed bands, erstwhile singer Bobby, now a lesbian pimp, bassist Tyra, now a single mom, and guitarist Col all remained, as did Charlie Unger, drummer, local character, washed-up prizefighter, and Tyra’s absentee dad, whose death brings them all together again. In 1980, with Bobby Sands’s hunger strike in the background, the band went from local pubs to a brief moment in the spotlight, while Mazz and Tyra fell in love. When Tyra ended a pregnancy, though, they gave up as the band fell apart. In 1999, Mazz and Tyra, both lonely and aware of their age, fall together as they pursue the odd circumstances of Charlie’s death. Scarily thuggish but goodhearted Jason Flaherty, once the Wurriyas’s manager, is now a real-estate developer riding high on Cardiff’s building boom, which is turning the gritty docks and pubs of the Wurriyas’s heyday into a touristy waterfront mall. He pays Mazz to find the band’s drummer Emyr, who has famously disappeared but was seen with Charlie shortly before his death. While making a go of it with Tyra, Mazz tours the surfing beaches of Wales, where rumor places Emyr, and uncovers the heartless real-estate maneuvering that led to the death of Charlie (and the Cardiff he once knew).
The “mystery” here reflects larger truths and keeps pages turning, but the texture, character and observation Williams gives us are by themselves captivating and rewarding enough.