❉ Paul Matts rides shotgun with the laconic prose of Punk Noir writer Paul D Brazill for We Are Cult.
Born in Hartlepool but now residing in Poland, Paul D Brazill is a prolific crime noir writer with a healthy body of work under his belt including several novellas and full-length novels. Furthermore, he runs the online arts & entertainment magazine Punk Noir Magazine It showcases the work of new writers, encompassing many styles.
His published works include 2019’s tremendous Gumshoe Blues (Close To The Bone), Kill Me Quick and Last Year’s Man (both 2018). Here We Are Cult goes a little further back, to 2017 for A Case Of Noir and to 2014 for Guns Of Brixton.
Published by Near To The Knuckle, A Case Of Noir is an immensely enjoyable slice of noir fiction. The fast-paced action centres around boozy hack Luke Case as he stumbles his way across Warsaw, Madrid, Toulouse and Granada and other locations in his path. Bars, hotel rooms and back streets are regular venues for the action, which is pulled together with laconic skill by Paul as the whole seedy escapade draws to its conclusion. Which is not at all inevitable, incidentally.
Locales are detailed with lucidity and frivolity by Paul, which makes for an enjoyable reading experience. You don’t get bogged down with too much pointless trivia. You can almost smell the musty odours of ‘80s bars and arcades in Seatown for example, a town used in other works by Paul.
Luke’s calamitous European adventures are, at times, severe. Safe to say he drinks and shags first – and thinks later. He has his faults too, however! This trait is at the centre of the storyline. Evasive action is necessary on more than one occasion. There are also several Knights in Shitty Armour, coming to the aid, detriment, and irritation of Luke. Coming from the pen of Mr Brazill, this is all dealt with a lightness of touch and dark humour that’s laugh out loud on several occasions. Laconic noir, I would say.
The comic descriptions of people are particularly effective – try ‘one particularly dandruff speckled gent with the complexion of a blackcurrant crumble’ for size.
The seedy side of life emanates constantly. You can almost smell the sheets from the sex in hotel rooms. This is dealt with in succinct fashion, each word is used effectively. The same applies to the numerous bar scenes, from the icy, snowy cool of Warsaw to the steamy heat of a Madrid mid-afternoon, to the snug of a Cambridge pub at lunch time.
Music references leap from the pages, with references to Tom Waits, Shirley Bassey, Fun Boy 3, John Martyn and Billy Holiday to name but a few.
The characters throughout the ninety-three pages are superb. Concise, comedic accounts relate to all. My own favourites include the wronged but revengeful, conniving Tatiana, the boozy, heaving Nathan Jones and the ridiculous East End criminal Sean Kelly. Ridiculous in the sense of the character’s own criminal vanity, incidentally. There are plenty more believable, scheming desperados to add to this cast, and is one of the novella’s great strengths.
Main character and narrator Luke Case, if it is indeed he (read it!), is a drinker, a liar, a coward and dumb. To reiterate, he has his faults too, but ultimately is a decent fella, and I found myself cheering him on, hoping he would do the ‘right’ thing and then putting my head in my hands when he let me down. His deserts were just about equitable at the end, however.
All in all, this novella made me laugh continually, and the pages were turned eagerly and the whole thing was done and dusted by the time I’d sunk a couple of pints of Everards Sunchaser. The rain may have been pissing it down outside, but A Case Of Noir made a wet afternoon in Leicester in May 2021 fly by. A great page turner.
Guns Of Brixton, published in 2014, was Paul’s first novella. It’s fascinating to see the characteristics of his later work, including A Case Of Noir, on display from the off. For example, obviously, music. On this occasion, as well as the usual, frequent song references, the whole thing is structured by Clash song titles. Guns Of Brixton is of course, a Clash classic, written by bassist Paul Simonon. The chapters are all given Clash song monikers, namely Safe European Home, Police And Thieves, Bankrobber, The Last Gang In Town and Somebody Got Murdered.
Anyone with any knowledge of ‘the Only Band That Matters’ would realise that this story is from the backstreets. There are gangster-style characters a-plenty, boys and girls who come out of their cupboards at the smell of a bit of cash, and the opportunity to do someone over often with clumsy, frightening consequences.
We meet Mobster Mad Tony Cook, stereotypical cop Ron Moody, bumbling thugs Big Jim and Kenny Rogan. All believable, leftovers from 1970s-80s gangland – still capable of doing a bit of damage.
The plot centres around a briefcase. A simple brief case in need of delivery which inevitably comes adrift as Big Jim and Kenny attempt to rob a jewellery shop on New Year’s Day dressed in drag. As you do. What ensues is a fast-paced chase across London to retrieve the thing. Ending up in the London Aquarium, naturally.
Locations are a series of backstreet boozers, greasy Joe cafes and lockups. Paul’s laconic style allows the reader to envisage these locations with ease. The Leather Stallion, a dated heavy metal bar hosted by rock n roll animal Hank Stone, is a good case in point:
‘The tables all seemed to have broken legs, so they stood at weird angles …. the walls were covered in posters of long-haired rock bands who were exposing their ample breasts to the camera. He supposed it was what he should have expected from a twenty-four-hour Heavy Metal Pub.’
The reader is transported to each of these places, smelling the stale piss and sweat on route. As in A Case Of Noir. A great feature, incidentally.
It all draws to a neat conclusion with all characters, just about, getting their just deserts. It is chaotic at times, but the narrative is woven cleverly.
For those who have read Paul’s subsequent work, especially the likes of the tremendous Gumshoe Blues, it is interesting to see how his work has developed. Rather like The Clash’s own debut record, Guns Of Brixton is raw, fast paced and in your face. As time has moved on, his work has developed several subtle nuances, and variety, whilst maintaining the same intensity and energy. Rather like London Calling, the band’s third album. It’ll be interesting to see if we ever get a full-on experimental Sandinista in time, but I have my fingers crossed nonetheless.
❉ Paul D. Brazill is on Twitter, Facebook and there are links to his published work on his website: https://pauldbrazill.com/. NB: As of 30 June, Punk Noir Magazine is closed to new submissions until 1 September 2021.
❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicestershire, England. His debut novel, Toy Guitars, is out in July 2021 published by New Generation Publishing. Other works include the novella Donny Jackal and short stories Revenge Can Be Sweet and One More Season. Paul is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punk Globe, Punk Noir and Something Else magazines, specialising in punk and Jamaican music. Occasionally, he dabbles in other genres too. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/.
❉ Photo credits: Agencja Gazeta. © Image subject to copyright.