Never the most stable fella to begin with, Leon managed to enrage local crime lord Graven by fucking up one of his big wig crime buddies mid-pump at the brothel Leon bounces at. Now Graven has Leon’s daughter and won’t give her back, may even turn her out, but you better believe a violent thug like Leon ain’t about to stand for that shit.
So begins the new novella Graven Image by Charlie Williams, the ridiculously kick ass author behind the Mangel Trilogy (Deadfolk, Fags and Lager, and King of the Road). Like the aforementioned adventures of Royston Blake, Graven Image is a first-person portrait of a bouncer of questionable sanity whose tale alternates between both hilarious and horrifying scenes. Unlike the Mangel Trilogy this story is far more tragic and heartbreaking than you might expect. (That said, King of the Road was particularly bleak in the last third, though because it was from Blake’s deluded perspective, was not told in such a manner. God, what a great fucking book.)
Like Ray Banks’ California (which I reviewed for the site last week), Graven Image is from the Crime Express imprint of Five Leaves Publications and serves as a great introduction to an author too few readers in the US are aware of. Charlie Williams is one of the most singular voices working in crime today, able to sneak insane comedy into his very dark novels without the reader ever confusing his work as something akin to a “comic crime” novel like those you might get from Carl Hiaasen or Janet Evanovich.
The Nerd doesn’t want to get too deep into what’s going on in Graven Image because Williams packs a lot of plot into the book’s slight word count, showing he can do movie-running-time-tight just as well as the more raconteur-ish, rambly-shambly style storytelling on display in the Mangel books. Though much is often made of voice and madness when discussing his work, I think short shrift is too often given to the fucking delightfully gritty worlds Williams creates, from dingy bars packed with shiftless professional drinkers to the lonely streets where only half-retarded wannabe thugs dare to tread, fritting away the night posing like their favorite crime flick characters to impress their easily amused friends.
The Nerd urges you, dear reader, to get your hands on some Graven Image toot-fucking-sweet, to let Leon take you on a journey through both the dark alleys of his hometown and those of his diseased brain. Granted, Leon’s gonna give you a laugh now and then, but mostly he’s just making sure this intense crazy train never slows for a fucking second lest he get a horrifying moment to reflect.