Wolf Tickets is Ray Banks’ “fuck yeah!” book, the novel where he delivers the most straight-up hard-boiled thrills per page than in anything he’s written to date. It follows two ex-army hard men, Farrell and Cobb, as they track down Farrell’s girlfriend who took twenty grand off him and ran off with her evil ex-boyfriend O’Brien. The two kick a lot of asses, take some nasty licks themselves, and talk Banks’ patented, beautifully profane trash to one another throughout. It also has the most non-stop plot that Banks has crafted to date, the pace never letting up as they plunge deeper and deeper into the shit that is the Newcastle underworld.
Though the nasty fun of Wolf Tickets is worn more on its sleeve than in anything else he’s done, this is anything but dumb fun. There’s a slyness to the way Banks handles the buddy novel that requires careful attention to spot. Initially you think Farrell is the more responsible of the pair. After all, we first meet Cobb as he clocks a security guard with a sock full of coins when he’s caught stealing piddly shit from a store. The guy also lives in squalor in a section 8 apartment, drinking away his days, only leaving the place to shoplift books and CDs. Compared to Farrell, who has money and a girlfriend and seemingly cooler head, Cobb seems like the Eric Roberts to Farrell’s Mickey Rourke. Only later do we come to realize that Farrell’s fucking nuts and Cobb has a moral code worthy of a Peckinpah character.
Coming just a few months after Dead Money, Banks’ most subtle and bewitching novel, Wolf Tickets is a wonderful change of pace. All his novels are gritty, spare and seemingly authentic, but Wolf Tickets turns up the blood and guts action just enough to be slightly more operatic, but not so much that it doesn’t feel like the story couldn’t exist within the Newcastle universe he has been carefully fleshing out book after book. If you haven’t taken a trip to Banks’ Newcastle yet, this is the most instantly gratifying introductory experience you’re going to get, hands down. And if it doesn’t entice you to keep booking flights back to check out all his other shit, we’re no longer on speaking terms, dear reader.