Author – Conrad Williams
Published – November 2015
Genre – Crime fiction
It struck me as unusual that this review copy included the name and publication dates of the next two books in the series. This seemed a little presumptuous and led me to my own (admittedly brief) investigation (well, I ‘Googled’) into the origins of Dust and Desire. From Conrad Williams’ own website (see, I said it was a brief investigation) I discovered that this book had first been published as ‘Blonde on a Stick’ in 2010. Titan Books wanted to publish Williams’ two subsequent Joel Sorrell books and wanted to reprint the first with a new title.
Sorrell is an ex-policeman turned private investigator and for personal reasons he has a particular interest in missing persons cases. So when a desperate young woman asks him to find her brother, despite the fact that he’s only been missing a matter of hours, Sorrell agrees to find him. If only he knew what he was letting himself in for!
In taking on the case Sorrell is searching for redemption for his past and as the story plays out we find out more about the circumstances in which he lost his wife and daughter and learn what drives him on.
His first attempt to track down the brother leads him to a restaurant holding both a private swingers party and bare-knuckle fighting. And I think that probably sums up quite neatly the slightly quirky nature of Willams’ book. While Sorrell neatly fits the part of the traditional cliched PI he is set apart by the quality of the sharp humour. I have to say that I adored the writing. When the narration is in Sorrell’s hands we see a wry take on the world and snappy one-liners.
“Everyone who survives a murder attempt seems to be ‘very lucky’, but I beg to differ. I would have been ‘very lucky’ if I’d decided to wear my Kevlar bobble hat before I’d gone out. I would have been ‘very lucky’ if my assailant had developed a fatal allergy to coshes a second or so before he stuck it to me. Or decided that he didn’t want to hit me at all, but shower me with kittens instead.”
In real life I’m sure you would soon tire of someone with his repartee, but personally I couldn’t get enough of the writing. I was positively disappointed when the perspective switched to that of the killer – a character with a very different voice and with a disturbing background and motivation.
It isn’t just the humour, it’s also the way Williams draws the world with his writing, lending London a gritty, noir air without exaggeration. It’s a London that’s easily recognisable but is depicted in quick strokes and not detailed descriptions.
At home on the mean streets of London Sorrell knows every dive and villain. The noir element is backed up by a considerable amount of fairly graphic violence; Sorrel ends up battered and bruised and Williams doesn’t skimp on the details. There is a twisty plot and a lot to keep track of.
I am SO looking forward to Sorrell’s next outing – which looks like it will be ‘Sonata of the Dead’ in July 2016. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.