Inside Straight, the latest offering from personal favorite Ray Banks, is the story of (self-described) world-class casino pit boss Graham Ellis. Our Graham has been transferred from the ritzy Palace to the far less glamorous Riverside in Salford and he sure as shit ain’t happy about it. The gig’s beneath his skill level and his manager at the Palace clearly has it in for him, his new boss even putting him on days like he’s a fucking noob. To add to these troubles, local crime boss Barry Pollard has asked for Graham’s help planning a heist at the Riverside, and “ask” is putting it a bit lightly. When the straight-arrow Graham finally agrees to aide the score, you better believe shit doesn’t go as planned.
It’s a ridiculously entertaining tale told from Graham’s perspective that’s full of dark humor, suspense, and some great, insider-y casino lore. (Excuse the Nerd’s creative writing class terms but evidence of my learnings has to pop up somewheres.) But that’s the kind of shit the Nerd has come to expect from one of crime’s finest storytellers. No, what really sets Inside Straight apart is Graham as a character.
Normally a story like this, where an average dude’s life quickly spirals out of control after a few shitty and illegal-ish decisions, would have at its center a guy who is upstanding enough but flawed by some vice – he’s a boozer, a gambling addict, etc. But what Banks does here is make Graham nerd-boy man-child, the type of Aspberger-y geek that we all know and even possibly are. He’s into Doctor Who and Lost and trolling message boards for people who disagree with his opinions on said shows. Instead of black coffee or a whiskey neat he’ll have a hot chocolate, thank you very much. I may have given myself the alias the Nerd of Noir, but I do believe Ray Banks just invented the genre of Nerd Noir. (Go ahead and provide me with counter-examples interwebs – you know your troll finger is feeling itchy!)
So if you’re up for an intense crime novel that breathes new life into a classic story, Inside Straight is your best bet, dear reader. (You don’t have to comment on that turn of phrase, interwebs – I’ll just go ahead and preempt you by punching myself in the balls straight away.)