Post 3 – for ReadKirklees
Occasionally I do chuck a book title or two into this blog as ‘recommended reading’ for like-minded folk. And last year I flagged up a book named ‘King Crow,’ by Michael Stewart. Mr Stewart happens to hail from the same side of the hills as I do (that dreadful Manchester place) and like me, he also did the defector thing – now happily living in west Yorkshire, hanging out in Kirklees and no doubt feeling as confused as I do, in terms of whether he’s more of a red, than a white rose.
Now, ‘King Crow’ was a darned fine book. So much so that it won The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker Prize’ award. So much so that I’ll be honest here; I didn’t really want to read Michael Stewart’s next offering. Because I don’t know about you, but these days, I rarely find a writer who manages to pack the same kind of punch with that ‘difficult second novel.’
But ‘Cafe Assassin’ has more than managed to pull this off. For me, the acid test of a damned good read is this; that you find yourself flicking back and forth in the book – checking facts and circumstances; reminding yourself of the vaguely sketched but now important, details of the story. Smiling to yourself ‘ah yes….that fits. I like that.’ And the proof of the pudding lies in the fact that you find yourself thinking of the story a few weeks later – pondering the characters, their motivations. And finally – when you find yourself trying to lend your copy to your mother (even though there are snippets in there that she might not fully approve of – and I’m not talking about the way the author disses The Cramps) well. Then you know that you really *should* flag the book up to all and sundry.
Michael Stewart doesn’t just write books. He’s a bit of a scripter too. And his work always touches on the kind of themes that fascinate me the most; working class origins, poverty versus privilege, justice, people struggling to find their own unique voice in a world that seeks to sink the undesirables and the impoverished as fast as it damned well can. And what I love most about his writing style is that it isn’t exclusive – anyone – of practically any reading ability – can pick up his work and engage with excellent prose, ultra-realistic discourse, canny social observations and humour – whilst actually educating themselves at the same time (i.e. I’m off to read some Baudelaire and a dab of Gerard de Nerval now.)
Neither does ‘Cafe Assassin’ lack on the storyline. Regular readers of this blog know that for nigh on 15 years, I’ve been involved in support to prisoners at home and abroad – so the blurb on the back of the book was a clincher for me; “Nick Smith went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, after twenty-two years inside, he is looking for the man who put him there…Nick wants everything that Andrew has. He wants it all and he will do anything to get it.”
To kick off with, we don’t know what Nick has done – whether he *has* indeed committed a crime at all – but we know for sure that he’s out and about these days and that he’s mega naffed-off. In between the thrill of the chase – the desire for house, life, wife – I love the way that Michael Stewart deftly weaves in the colours of the North; I found myself hankering back to the days of mooching around Afflecks Palace in my monkey boots with the Rasta shoelaces, hanging out at The Dry and at The Night and Day Cafe, laughing at the ‘student-types’ at the Hacienda … (and will the lad who approached me on the dance floor there in ’91, informing me “Hey Girl – I’m digging your rave!” please email me? Because you are categorically the only man who has ever complimented me on my dancing prowess. And I would personally like to thank you. You were twisting my melon, man.)
So from the dropping of E’s down at the Hac (not me, Mum!) to the violence of Cat A-Wing HMP Wakefield… right over to the triple-garaged homes of well-heeled Ilkley; our protagonist continues to lurk and plots the utmost in revenge. Yup – Cafe Assassin has all of the bases covered for me.
But I’m not going to spoil any of the suspense for those of you who want to read it (and believe me – there’s bags of the stuff in there) but I will say that for me, at any rate – the ending was rather unexpected.
But certainly not a let-down.
So if you are after a rollocking good read for the summer; if you trust me on my previous choices and words of wisdom and if you want to support one of the best indie publishers in the UK (those Bluemoose people) then do snaffle this book up ASAP.
In fact, my only criticism of the novel is that there was a distinct lack of caffeine involved. But then, none of us are perfect.