Sunday, August 5, 2007

Review of Payback

Payback by Russell James (Point Blank, 2007) is a novel that, on the surface, shares a lot of similarities with Get Carter (a.k.a. Jack’s Return Home). You can start with the premise: A man with a checkered past returns home to investigate the death of his estranged brother. Both stories are set among the English working class. The main characters of both books share a surname. Both men commit acts of violence in their quest to uncover the truth. But Floyd Carter, the protagonist of Payback, is no Jack Carter. Jack is a hard man; a cold blooded killer, and Floyd, while he’s no angel, is not a Jack. He is an altogether more humane figure.

Despite their superficial similarities, Payback and Get Carter are very different stories. While the latter is a straightforward revenge tale, with bad people doing bad things to each other, the former is a story about the nature of family and friendship with a revenge element.

Floyd Carter returns from Germany to London to bury his brother Albie, a local drug dealer, who was killed in a hit and run. The police are the only ones who think Albie’s death was an accident, so when Floyd returns, all eyes are on him. He has a reputation, after all. Soon, Floyd finds himself embroiled in a war between two rival drug gangs competing for territory. Floyd has other concerns, however. His best friend has turned into a junkie. The woman he cares for has a teenage daughter headed for trouble, and his brother’s death has left him responsible for his retarded brother, Ludo.

Floyd feels compelled to find out who killed his brother, even though they had not spoken in years, and even though he worries about how his actions will affect his loved ones. It is this additional element that keeps Payback from being your run-of-the-mill revenge story. He’s not a single minded killer like Jack Carter or Donald Westlake’s Parker. He’s a man who wonders if his desire for revenge might end up hurting the ones he loves. The conflict gives the story depth it needs to stand out.

The heroin-addicted friend subplot doesn’t really go anywhere, but it does give James a chance to riff on the drug trade, which he writes about well, pointing out the absurdity of both the user’s attitude and the way the authorities combat drugs. His point is well taken, but it’s too bad the subplot feels tacked on.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Wonder if the use of the name "Carter" is an hommage or a fluke. Sounds good though.

Anonymous said...

I totally thought it was some sort of Homage to Get Carter when i read it.