“How To Kill Friends And Implicate People” by Jay Stringer

I requested this book from NetGalley because frankly, it’s got one of the greatest titles I’ve ever seen, and then realised it was the second book in a series. So I hunted down the first book on Amazon, whizzed through that, and moved onto this one. I briefly reviewed Ways To Die In Glasgow on Goodreads, but I don’t think this review will be incomprehensible without knowing much about that, just as the book itself isn’t either.

There are recurring characters from the first book, notably Sam Ireland, who gives her name to the series, and it’s helpful to have some idea of their backstory. However, this takes place a fair while later, and so it’s not a direct sequel in terms of plot. Book one’s pretty damn entertaining, though, so for that reason alone I’m glad I sought it out. Anyway. I’m meant to be reviewing the second book. Let’s get on with it.

how-to-kill-friends-and-implicate-people

Publication date: October 18th, 2016

What I loved about the first book was the sense of voice, and that comes across just as well in this book. Each of the characters had a really distinctive way of narrating, so that I never felt like the POVs were the same with different pronouns. It’s possible they’re slightly less distinct than in the first book, but it’s a marginal difference and is only because of the characters involved, rather than any drop in writing quality. Stringer does a good job of walking the fine line between representing accents in writing and making things too complicated, managing to give a convincing sense of Glasgow nuances and dialect without making everything phonetic in a Dickensian way.

Mainly, though I loved the humour. It’s everywhere in the narration, and I don’t just mean jokes. Stringer’s characters have a dry, sardonic way of phrasing certain situations, even when they’re in danger, that makes everything entertaining. As with the first book, I was constantly highlighting things that amused me, though some were more contextual than the usual one-liners that I share in reviews and on Goodreads. Any book that can make me laugh (or just smile to myself while reading a horrifically violent scene — it’s a gift) usually wins my heart over things that don’t, so this one’s got an advantage there.

Here are a few quotes I liked, though they’re far from representative of the whole book:

It rained for 360 days a year. On the other five? Baking sunshine. Every skinny Ned in town takes his top off and worships the strange ball of fire in the sky.

I used all the skills I would have picked up on an IT course, and switched the phone off and on again.

And, even on the streets of Glasgow, don’t back down from anything.
Don’t show any fear.
It’s like Mad Max out here sometimes.
Except I’m better looking. And not Australian. And don’t need gasoline. Also, my names not Max, and I’m not a man. So, it’s not really anything like Mad Max, but it’s a fun thing to say.

Was Keith trying on some kind of protection racket, with moles as his mafia backup? Jesus cocking Christ.

I have no idea if that gives you some sort of idea what I’m talking about, but the style of the whole book is filled with these sardonic comments, meaning that even when characters aren’t actively making a joke, they’re pretty funny. I always appreciate that in a book, especially one that contains a lot of violence and murder and assorted other crime. It helps to balance it out.

Talking of the murder, one of our main characters here is a hitman. That’s a draw for me, because I’m intrigued by assassin characters, but I was still surprised to find just how sympathetic he was, without falling into self-loathing tortured-soul assassin tropes. He’s funny, and not afraid to acknowledge that what he does is what most people consider morally reprehensible, though it (mostly) doesn’t bother him too much. He’s also a gentleman, and I liked how he behaved around women, which was respectful and self-aware rather than pushy. Despite all the murder, he’s far from emotionless, and his interest in PI Sam Ireland — without knowing she’s a PI — is what draws their two halves of the plot together.

So yes, there is a romance element, which would usually put me off. But for once, it didn’t. For a start, even though they’re attracted to each other, it’s not actually about appearance or chemistry, at least at first. They meet online, through a dating site they were both badgered to join. (Sam by her best friend, Fergus by his sister. Yes, the hit man is called Fergus.) And their relationship is mostly based on the fact that they can make each other laugh.

Essentially, they’re attracted to the same thing that attracted me to this book. Their styles meshed. Even once they got to the kissing stage, which wasn’t too drawn out because this book is about crime not romance, you got the impression they genuinely liked each other, which is so often lacking in fiction where it’s just about attraction.

Sam’s also come a long way from the first book, in confidence and in her career. She’s now a part-time bike messenger as well as a PI, and this allows for an interesting merging of the two careers, including a high-speed chase between a bicycle and a train. A bit of a twist on the usual car chase, but one I enjoyed, and one that allowed for lots of observations about what it’s like to cycle in Glasgow. (See the Mad Max comparison above.) Plus, her career as a courier means GPS tracking comes as standard, allowing her and her brother Phil to take their PI activities to a new level.

I found the plot of this book a bit easier to follow than the previous one, though I’m not sure if that’s to do with reading it in one sitting (and after having slept), or the book itself. Either way, though it twists and turns I mostly kept up with what was going on, and all the double crossing that’s happening. Anything that managed to lose me didn’t seem particularly important to understanding the general plot, so I’ll overlook that.

I enjoyed seeing Sam and Fergus’s perspectives as they grew closer and closer to the same events, largely because they had no idea about each other’s career, but also because they were approaching from such different angles. Not only did each POV have its own voice, but their perspective was about more than just where they were standing. That also helped me to follow the plot, because I could fill the gaps more easily.

On the whole, I hugely enjoyed this sequel. Like I said, it probably makes enough sense without reading book one that you won’t find your enjoyment spoiled by confusion, but why wouldn’t you? It’s 99p on Amazon and it’s just as entertaining.

This loses a star because I have to be absolutely head-over-heels in love with a book to give it five, and there were a few elements of this that I was less keen on, but they had a fairly minor impact overall. Well worth a look if you’re into crime novels that aren’t all doom and gloom, because you can be gritty without being depressing and Jay Stringer proves it.

Rating: ****

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