by James Craig
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781569479902
Date: 18 October 2011 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Twenty-five-years ago, the Merrion Club--a fraternity composed of Britain's future VIPs--went on a drinking binge and committed a heinous crime against a fellow student. Now, someone with a very large knife wants revenge against these eight men. One VIP is Christian Holyrod, Mayor of London; another is Edgar Carlton who, according to the polls, will become prime minister in the next General Election, which is only a few days away. After two VIPs are found butchered, Inspector John Carlyle must locate the killer before more die and the election is disrupted.
James Craig's gutsy, envelope-pushing debut, London Calling, dares to distinguish itself from the rest of the crime drama genre. It is a carefully crafted blend of horror and police procedural that is quite macabre and spellbinding. London Calling is a fast-paced mystery that kept me in suspense until the killer's carefully guarded identity was eventually revealed at the shocking conclusion. In the meantime, the death scenes are graphic, bloody and disturbing; likewise, the sex scenes are as equally perverse and stomach churning. I was reminded of my beloved Italian gialli of the late sixties and seventies. These gialli are films where a black-gloved killer stalks and butchers those who are involved with a past crime; usually the victims consist of gorgeous women.
What was envelope-pushing about London Calling? I've never read sex scenes as graphic as the ones depicted in this crime novel. While reading them, I kept thinking, "TMI - too much information". I must assume the author was trying to be as realistic as possible, but this realism may lose readers. (One major sex scene is homosexual in nature.) The raunchy sex scenes, I assume, are intended to depict the depravity of the men belonging to the Merrion Club. Because of their decadent, selfish, lifestyles, I lost all sympathy for the victims. In fact, I was hoping the killer would survive long enough to slay everyone in the Merrion Club. Other readers may also feel the same. At one point, Carlyle sympathized with the killer.
Inspector John Carlyle of London's Metropolitan Police is a flawed but very likeable character. He never carries a gun and seldom remembers to bring his handcuffs; he relies heavily on his partner, Sergeant Joe Szyszkowski, to manhandle and subdue the villains. Carlyle is a loving family man with a huge sweet tooth; he is also lifelong friends with a professional, highly successful drug dealer, Dominic Silver, who supplies him with information needed to solve his cases. Furthermore, his boss is the overbearing, image-conscious Superintendent Carole Simpson who behaves more like a ladder-climbing politician than a police officer. I believe the author is boldly stating that there are many unqualified employees, like Carole Simpson and Edgar Carlton, who obtained positions of power because of their gender or race. The author also speaks candidly and passionately about the economic downturn that has despairingly plagued London as well as the rest of the world.
The novel's chapters alternate between Carlyle's present and his past--a past pertaining to his career as a police officer since joining the Met Police in the mid-eighties. He's had a turbulent career involving IRA terrorist bombings and coal mining strikes that were all very warlike in their depictions. Details are provided on how Carlyle became good friends with Dominic Silver and how he became enemies with a vicious bully, fellow police officer Trevor Miller, who later becomes head of security for the Carlton twins, Edgar and Xavier. The transitioning between past and present is expertly executed without any confusion. Furthermore, I am partial to this novel because I am the same age as the major characters; I was studying hard at the University of Tennessee at the same time that the wealthy, spoiled Carltons were partying at the University of Cambridge.
After reading James Craig's provocative thriller, London Calling, whenever I look at a politician I ask myself, "What dark, horrible secrets are you hiding? How many lives have you destroyed to get to the top rung of the ladder?" The novel also has an element of dark, politically based humor. For example, one of the politicians is behaving badly like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in that he gets his nanny pregnant. I can't help but laugh when I think about that one.
Overall, if you can stomach the strong sexual content, I highly recommend reading London Calling with its creative, bloody death scenes, high body count, exotic locales and intriguing mystery. I can't wait for the sequel; I can already hear it calling my name.