Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme as a way to share old favourites, as well as books that have been waiting on the ‘to be read’ pile for however long, and are finally getting an airing.
This week I’m revisiting Once Upon A Time In the City Of Criminals by multi genre writer and novelist Mark Barry. I’ve read several of Mark’s books and enjoyed them all.
Terry Valentine, a middle-aged ex con with an unsavoury past, and a less than wholesome present, is reduced to debt collection and working for dodgy businessmen. It’s all just a job to Terry, he thinks nothing of threatening people and carrying out those threats if he has a need to. Up to now his life has been a long list of lost opportunities and chances not taken, there’s nothing left for him.
Or so he thinks. Then fate throws him a curve ball in the shape of gorgeous young lesbian prostitute, Chloe. Terry becomes her driver and minder….and falls in love with her despite the obvious difference in age, sexual preference and his unspoken opposition to her chosen occupation.
I must have still been stunned when I agreed to help. I should have walked, especially in the light of how it all turned out for us. But I accepted her proposition (hailed and damned) without thinking twice and she came over and put her hand on my shoulder saying thank you so much Mr Valentine and I said (you always were a dick) no issues, no problem. Not a bother. Any chance of a coffee….
When one of Chloe’s clients, a wealthy and powerful woman who has a gang of thugs at her disposal, decides she wants Chloe for herself, exclusively and permanently, the situation becomes extremely volatile. Terry relishes the opportunity to clash with an old enemy, now Chloe’s boss. A reckless, nothing to lose attitude, renders him unable to see how his situation could be any worse, whatever the outcome. He and his friend Pike, who is of the same mindset, take drastic action to rescue Chloe, which results in a spectacularly violent and bloody conflict.
The darker side of humanity and life is portrayed vividly and realistically, and is disturbing yet compelling at the same time. The sleazy world of drugs, dealers and the bleak, harsh reality of wrong paths taken. For all his faults I found myself liking Terry and hoping against hope things would work out for him.
There are lots of great descriptive passages but I really like this quote..
….perhaps the most cynical, disdainful, disrespectful sentence I have ever heard in my entire life and my hackles are so up they’re ripping the collar of my polo neck….
Mark Barry is very skilled at crafting characters who seem, at first glance, to have little or no redeeming qualities, but are actually much deeper and more complex than they appear initially. Terry, despite the life he’s lived, still has the ability to feel emotions and be moved. He is basically a casualty of the society he was born into, although he does little to try and change his lifestyle, rather tries to recreate ‘the good times’. The story is written from his perspective which gives an understanding of his character and how deeply his confusion of feelings for Chloe, and his dislike of her chosen profession, affect him. Despite the dissimilarities, he and Chloe do develop a bond. But his preoccupation with Chloe probably loses him his last chance of a shot of happiness with old flame, Marge.
The narrative has a unique literary structure, which took a little while to settle into, but is very effective with brilliantly inventive writing and dialogue.
About the Book
Terry Valentine, ex-football hooligan and aging, small-time hood spends his nights driving beautiful young escort, Chloe, to her appointments in the urban inferno of the big city and the opulent manor houses of the countryside. Despite himself, knowing full well the madness, he falls in love with her. Hard. And so does Hope Calder, impossibly rich COE of Calder Phoenix, a multi-national financial conglomerate. Someone who has everything a woman could possibly want. Money, status power. Everything except love. When Chloe declines her advances, her driver knows that a simple polite refusal isn’t going to be enough. With her boss, the cunning Neville, manipulating the situation to his own ends, and Hope’s small army of corporate shills lurking in the shadows, Chloe finds herself in mortal danger. And only one man can protect her. Terry Valentine. Loser. Jailbird. Junkie.