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(Reviewed by Tony Ross APR 9, 2007)Butetown in Cardiff, as seen previously in his collection Five Pubs, Two Bars, and a Nightclub, for a crime novel that draws heavily upon the themes of his first novel, Faithless. That story featured Jeff, former punk saxaphonist who is drifting along trying to figure out what to make of his life in the wake of punk. Here, we have Mazz, guitarist for hire and former leader of a Welsh one-hit-wonder ska band from 1981, the Wurriyas. It's now 1999, and Mazz is making his way back to Cardiff for his bandmate Charlie's funeral, where he will encounter everyone from the "good old days" (including a number of characters who appear in Five Pubs, Two Bars, and a Nightclub).
Was Charlie's death an accidental cocaine overdose, or is there something more to it? And what about the mysterious disappearance of Emyr, formerly the Wurriyas' skinhead drummer, and now a brooding alt-rock god? Mazz ends up getting involved in both questions, but only in a meandering way, because what he's really wondering is how his life has gotten so off track, and what-if any-changes he can make. Mazz's struggle with the past is inexorably tied to that of Tyra, his former bandmate, girlfriend, and Charlie's daughter. Williams propels their story with flashbacks to the early '80s showing the formation of the band, their rise and fall, and the relationships between them all. Initially it's a little hard to feel too much sympathy for hard-drinking Mazz, who seems to be able to pull any woman he wants, but as the novel progresses, it becomes sad how these are the only things he can try and fill his emptiness in. What he really wants, he's not made for, and perhaps saddest of all, he knows it.
This is a great book, mixing crime, pulp, tragedy, grim humor, surfing, ska, urban renewal, nostalgia, and desperation. All the characters pop from the page, especially vivid are lesbian singer turned pimp Bobby, and laid-back former footballer turned surfer bum Colonel. Contrary to at least one review, there is very little slang in the book, and it's quite easy to understand from the context. A brilliant look at non-tourist Cardiff. in addition to his his two books mentioned above, also check out Williams' non-fiction tour of American crime writing, Into the Badlands.
- Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews
"Five Pubs, Two Bars, and a Nightclub"
(Reviewed by Tony Ross APR 9, 2007)
The title refers to the eight locales from which each of these interwoven stories takes its title. The crime-tinged tales are all generally set in Butetown, a working-class, largely Caribbean neighborhood in Cardiff, Wales. Characters move in and out between the stories, most of which are set contemporarily and involve, crime, drugs, and sex. While there is an air of seediness about the shady lives everyone leads, Williams gives each story just enough humor and humanity to keep the collection light. Fun stuff.
If you like this, definitely check out his subsequent novel, Cardiff Dead, which features some of the same characters (pothead Col, lesbian pimp Bobby, and heavy Kenny Ibdullah to name a few). Also check out Williams' debut novel, Faithless and his earlier travelogue of American crime writers, Into the Badlands. One of the stories in this volume previously appeared in the Fresh Blood 2 anthology.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Faithless (1997)
- Five Pubs, Two Bars and a A Nightclub (1999)
- Cardiff Dead (2000)
- The Prince of Wales (2003)
- Temperance Town (2004)
- Back to the Badlands: Crime Writing in the USA (1991; 2005; February 2007 in U.S.)
- Bloody Valentine (1994)
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- Serpent's Tail page on author John Williams
- HomePage interview with John Williams
- Shots Mag review of Five Pubs, Two Bars and a Nightclub
- BBC review of The Prince of Wales
- MostlyFiction.com review of Back to the Badlands
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About the Author:
John Williams was born in Cardiff in 1961. He wrote a punk fanzine and played in bands before moving to London and becoming a journalist, writing for everyone from The Face to the Financial Times.
He wrote his first book, an American crime fiction travelogue called Into The Badlands (Paladin) in 1991. His next book, Bloody Valentine (HarperCollins), written around the Lynette White murder case in the Cardiff docks, came out in 1994. Following a subsequent libel action from the police, he turned to fiction, including the Cardiff novels.
He has edited an anthology of new Welsh fiction, Wales Half Welsh. He also writes screenplays (his ninety-minute drama, A Light In The City, was shown by BBC Wales in 2001).
He now lives in Cardiff with his wife and children.