A Kill For The Poet, by Simon Maltman
[Note: This book was given free of charge by the author. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
As someone who is slightly familiar with the writings of the author , I was quite comfortable pulling a Caroline Bingley and reading the second volume of this series without having read the first volume yet. While the novel does contain several references to its predecessor, A Chaser On The Rocks, and apparently contains a similar complicated novel within a novel design, it was a novel I was able to appreciate and grasp as a standalone volume even though I was aware it was part of a larger series. What the reader ends up with is two enjoyable noir novels that deal with Belfast and its surrounding areas and also go further afield. The novel also has at its center a likable character, if a somewhat unreliable narrator named Billy Chapman/Brian Caskey who tries to cope with various mental health struggles with liberal doses of anti-psychotic meds as well as writing, and some amateur sleuthing on the side. The fragile mental state of the author makes it hard to trust what the narrator says about himself, although it adds to the general appeal in being a remarkably blunt and generally positive portrayal of writing as therapy for mental illness something at least some readers of this book may be familiar with.
If you have read works by the author before, you have some idea of what you are going to find here. A generally sympathetic Northern Irishman with a strong interest in relevant literature and with good movie tastes finds himself in way over his head and simply tries to cope with it to make it to the other side, with escalating drama. In this case the novel within the novel shows that the author can craft his own tales while also paying homage to some of the great noir novelists of previous generations by looking at contemporary Belfast after the Brexit and also the Belfast of the postwar period. The story itself is mostly in Northern Ireland but also takes an enjoyable detour to Belgium, and there are some enjoyable meta jokes where the narrator jokes about being an author and arranging blog tours. One wonders, in reading this novel in the context of the author’s work as a whole, how much of the book springs from the author’s own perspective as well as from his obvious command of the relevant detective fiction. The satisfying cliffhang ending lets the reader know that there will likely be more enjoyable and slightly unhinged adventures for the hero ahead where he tries to balance his writing, his love of solving mysteries, and his fragile grip on mental health.
Simon Maltman is a writer whose works have the terroir of Belfast all over them, and if you are a reader drawn to gripping stories with strong local color, and especially if you have enjoyed previous works by the author, there is much here that will be of interest. What Raymond Chandler was to Los Angeles, Maltman is to Belfast, a novelist with an eye for the seedy underbelly of a city, and a way of connecting the private drama of lonely men in dangerous cities to the problems of the wider world in which they have a shadowy existence. This is a novel that reminds the reader, if any reminder were necessary, that there are many ways that what seems like a little bit of fun and a way to spice up an otherwise mundane life and earn a bit of money on the side can lead to places far darker than can be imagined. The way the protagonist copes with being in over his head is something that is quite enjoyable to read and possibly reflect on with regards to our own lives, which are hopefully less dramatic.
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