Review: Keith Nixon – Russian Roulette

Caffeine Nights is a publisher that I’ve been meaning to investigate for a while. I have Nick Quantrill’s The Crooked Beat primed to read in the next week or so and in 2015 they’re publishing a fellow reviewer’s debut, Snatched from Home by Graham Smith. The publisher’s books are largely hard-hitting noir tales. It’s not a genre I read much of and, as I’ve mentionedimage before on this blog, the place to go to discover all things noir is the excellent site of Paul D Brazill. I started with Russian Roulette by Keith Nixon which are a series of novellas brought together in a single volume. It’s a great introduction to the author and, if the quality of the writing is anything to go by, shows why noir is such a popular genre.

Konstantin Boryakov is an ex-KGB agent who arrives in the seaside town of Margate. He is immediately plunged into a trail of troubles as he comes up against small time criminals, a loan shark, a nightclub dominatrix Felicity, also known as Plastic Fantastic, and the club’s owner, Ken.

It’s quite difficult to summarise the plot of a collection of novellas, and I often have a similar problem when I review short stories. Perhaps it’s easier to focus on how the various narratives are successfully brought together. Firstly the setting. Margate is a seaside town with a reputation, in the book at least, for seediness and minor criminal activity. It’s not an area that I know well at all and yet it personifies the grimness of many English seaside towns that have lost their sheen over the years. The sense of menace is below the surface but ever present.

The character of Konstantin is also well-developed throughout the stories. He has a morality, of sorts, but this is tempered by the need to protect himself that has come through past failures. He’s at his most interesting when he joins in the fight but the most human when he walks away. I liked best the tales featuring Felicity. She tries to play Konstantin but fails because of his inherent need to move on from trouble.

The tone is resolutely noir and the writing is sharp and funny. It would make a great read over Christmas.