Sexual relations with penguins, tightrope walking from Beetham Tower to the Palisades, drinking in Tysley. No it’s not Stan Collymore’s to do list, it’s some of the surreal goings on in Mick Scully’s Little Moscow, the book and the – possibly fictional – bar where Birmingham’s notorious villains hang out. Tindal Street‘s latest book is a collection of short stories, that intertwine as underworld relationships often do.
For all the fiction it’s the down at heel detail that works best, the motives of the characters is believable despite not having too much room to develop them over some strikingly paced stories. The disparate collection of crooks all have their own internal moral code, and a logic that allows them to burn, steal, shoot and “sleep with men without being gay”. It’s well drawn enough for you not to question them, whether you feel sick at the thought or not – a young thief that puts his own dog down disturbed me more than any number of killings for money, it has a real sadness and emotional depth. It’s in these passages that the book really rises above genre ‘noir’ fiction, criminals are human, after all.
One hopes that Mick hasn’t had much cause to drink down Little Moscow, Fat Alex – the corpulent publican, more Sweeney Todd than Minder’s Dave from the Winchester – doesn’t sound like he cleans his pipes often enough. In fact, in the course of reading the publicity bumf I learnt that he drinks in the Highbury, a pub I’ve frequented over the years – although I was more regular in the neighbouring Dogpool Hotel. Rough it might be, although it hasn’t been mentioned on our hard pub thread, any pub opposite the world famous Dad’s Lane chippy can’t be all that bad.
The cast of supporting characters all have sufficient depth, and the city is another one of these – the mentions of Waterstone’s on New Street, and the Highbury itself help the local, but the fictional tattoo parlours and lap-dancing clubs blend seamlessly into Scully’s Brum.
As is so often the case with collections of short stories, there are tales that you wish went on longer or in more depth and there are ones that are mental Chinese food leaving you hungry for something else straight after. You have the suspicion that Mick will return to some of the characters in greater detail, and that will be a trip well worth making.
And no penguins were harmed in the the production of this book.