The Cal Innes series is hands-down my favorite take on the private eye genre. That’s the long and the fucking short of it, dear reader. The third in a quartet of novels following Innes, No More Heroes proves yet again that Ray Banks is the most daring stylist in the PI game today.
No More Heroes starts out with Cal working a shit job for a slumlord, serving tenants eviction papers. It’s violent, depressing work but Cal, an ex-con wary of getting back into PI work, has few other prospects. While serving one family their notice, Cal ends up saving a small boy from a burning building, making him the toast of the town. His new found celebrity leads his best friend Paulo to suggest he get back into the PI trade, but Cal’s first client ends up being the same slumlord he was previously working for. It seems the fire was part of a blackmail scheme being run on him, most likely by the local white nationalist party that want the minorities he boards in his shit shacks out of their community. But as Cal begrudgingly takes up the case, he soon finds out that nothing is as cut-and-dried as it first might seem.
One of the many aspects that sets Banks apart from his PI fiction peers is organic plotting. No More Heroes is arguably the most mystery-ish novel of the four in the series, but the sly way in which the age-old detective beats are handled do not bring to mind the the massively complex, this-shit-goes-all-the-way-to-the-governor’s-mansion-type thrillers that clutter the airport bookshop shelves. Instead Banks dials back the red herrings, shocking twists and incessant beatdowns/shoot-outs that one might expect from such a story and makes you believe every situation Cal gets into and/or uncovers.
But it is Cal himself that truly makes these novels work. There is absolutely nothing idealized about Innes, and that is extremely refreshing. He’s a pill junkie, he’s not much of a fighter (the chaos of the opening scene with the surly students brings to mind the messiness of the poolhall brawl in Mean Streets), he never gets laid, he’s funny but in an asshole way rather than a cool Pat Kenzie sort of way, and it’s even mentioned in the novel that he has double chins. I mean fuck, Banks doesn’t even allow Cal to be a beautiful loser – there’s nothing romantic about him in the slightest. Yet for all his faults, Cal is ultimately a good guy who cares and follows a shaky code, try as he might to convince you otherwise.
If you haven’t read any of the series, I’d strongly suggest you start at the very beginning, a very good fucking place to start: Saturday’s Child. If you like the shit that challenges the form, shit like Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor novels or George Pelecanos’ Strange and Quinn series, this will be right up your dark little alley. Personally, I think Innes rules them all with a shaky, first-day-of-withdrawal fist.