Thursday, March 24, 2011


CALIFORNIA by Ray Banks. Five leaves, Crime express, ISBN 9781907869075, £4.99

Review by Tim Stephen

California is the story of recently released from prison, Shug Boyle. Shug's time inside taught him how to deal with his temper, however ineffectively, and to work towards a goal. The prison therapist never intended for Shug to resort to criminal methods in order to achieve that goal, but for Shug – and the reader – it seems absolutely logical.

We meet Shug just as he has car-jacked a pensioner in the first steps of his goal “to travel a bit, see outside of the lowlands”. We follow his progress as he tries to reclaim his stash. Along the way Shug tangles with various characters from his home town California (next to Falkirk) including the guys who fingered him to the police in the first place, (read it and you can judge if he deals with his anger management there).

As we travel with Shug we learn about his quick temper and his ways of dealing with it. We see his life before he was jailed. In short, we get to see what kind of a bloke he is. As I've always found with Banks' work, it doesn't matter whether his characters are good or bad, we sympathise with them from start to finish. California is no exception. Shug is obviously a bit of a hard man with a reputation for violence but he's now trying to leave his past behind. Unfortunately for Shug, but fortunately for the reader (after all, who wants to read about a typical Hollywood happy ending?), things don’t work out as planned.

Fans of Banks will not be disappointed at his cringe-worthy rendering of violence and sharp dialogue that renders his characters all the more believable.

I'm a big fan of Ray Banks' work myself and would highly recommend any of his novels. This little novella fits in perfectly with the rest of his books. It has the sharp punch of a short story with added meat to its bones. Admittedly, at just shy of a hundred pages I read it from cover to cover in one sitting, but that's as much a reflection on the quality as the length.

Tim Stephen for crimescenescotland, 24/03/11