After a couple years minding his own and watching television in his cellar, Royston Blake takes to the streets of Mangel once again in Charlie Williams’ One Dead Hen. After being picked up by the police on suspicion of being The Reaper, the local serial killer decapitating young women, Blake gets it in his head that he’d make a fine copper himself, just like “Sonny Wossname” from Miami Vice with the flash togs and motor. But naturally the demented Blakey’s half-retarded investigation leads to more murders and destruction than the actions of the mysterious Reaper himself.
If you’re not familiar with Royston Blake, formerly Mangel’s number one doorman and top community pillar, you no-shit owe it to yourself to, you know, fucking familiarize. Last seen in the books Deadfolk, Booze and Burn (formerly known by its decidedly more British title Fags and Lager), and King of the Road, Blake is easily one of the great characters of modern crime. He narrates our story like he’s holding court at your local towards last call, with all the semi-truths and self-aggrandizement such a situation implies – but I wouldn’t call bullshit on anything he says for fear of losing some teeth for my journalistic endeavors.
But unlike the previous entries in the series, One Dead Hen finds our boy a bit gun-shy, a recluse and teetotaler following the devastating events of King of the Road. Basically, he needs to take a page from Stella and get his fucking groove back, just not with all the buggering of young black blokes, like. (Apologies to Mr Williams for my shit attempts at aping his style.) But once he does get a goal in mind? God help the town he calls home, as his idea of playing cop means he has license to do anything he wants, be it thievery, destruction, injury, or murder.
One Dead Hen is an oil-black comedy, with many of the biggest laughs (and I no-shit laughed audibly many times, in public even, like a fucking keep-your-kids-close creepo) coming from Blake’s misunderstanding or pointed misrepresentation of a given situation. But while the comedy may keep you laughing (even when, say, Blake accidentally smothers someone to death in hopes of seeing if they were just pretending to be unconscious), Williams is also constructing a sly mystery around our hero, and it’s up to the reader’ careful attention to Blake’s context clues (and some insane newspaper articles) to figure out what’s really rotten in Mangel.
Hilarious, violent, exciting, and refreshingly original, it’s hard to beat a great Blake outing like One Dead Hen for a ridiculously fun read. But like he did with King of the Road, in the end stretch Williams manages to ruthlessly stomp on your heart as well. And if you think a comic crime novel about a sociopathic simpleton can’t be a whole package-style novel like that, you’ve clearly never shoved any Charlie Williams under your shining-red boozer’s nose, dear reader.