Backed up against the wall you sweat and you gibber
But despite what they say you ain’t no grass and you ain’t no fibber
Drawing his gun he points it straight in your face
In your chest your heart hammers at an accelerated pace
All of a sudden he squeezes the trigger
Your legs giving way in a slip and a jigger
But as the hammer comes down for your brains to disturb
Poking out of the barrel is a flag with a blurb…..
Tony is a handsome young boxer forced into a life of crime after suffering a vicious blow in the ring.
Seduced by the glitz and glamour of London and mentored by charismatic gang lord Don March he rises rapidly up the crime ladder until he spies an opportunity to start a semi-legit Natural Highs business.
Bankrolled by an eccentric British dandy and accompanied by a cast of starry misfits including a 3ft tall blue-haired money man, an Etonian drug mule, two dominatrix debt collectors, a dodgy lawyer and a host of demi-celebs, Tony carves out a roll for himself in a city where money creates its’ own morality.
All seems to be going well until in the shadows, a Bollywood mobster threatens to derail their plans.
Chaos ensues, of course it does – wonderful, beautiful, visceral chaos.
The deft wit of Hammett meets the vivid poetics of Chandler: Crack Apple and Pop is slick smart and razor sharp. A gritty and sometimes metafictive slice of London noir.
A city of artful dodgers, yardie gangsters, kinky aristos, cocaine dusted starlets and social thrill seekers where everyone’s hustling and everyone’s getting high.
Whether it’s law, finance, the music biz, or the boxing ring: money is king. And only the ones prepared to risk everything will survive…
Do you hear that bubbling noise? Listen very carefully….there….hear it? You may also hear a thrashing sound, a gasp for air and then more bubbling? Hear it yet? You do? good, because that, Beardy Blog Fans, is the sound of your favourite beardy blogger drowning under the sheer weight of Fahrenheit Press books. You see, I am a supporter of their Patreon scheme whereby, for a small monthly subscription, you can avail of their many, many books depending on the level of said subscription. Like the bearded ninny that I am I subscribed to the top tier and so I am entitled to every book they publish this year; that’s around 3-4 new books a month. That my friends, is a shit load of books. As such they get loaded onto my kindle and there they stay until I get around to reading them. Sadly, with my ever increasing TBR I am lagging far, far behind. However, there are some books that creep through and grab me by the beard and shout into my face “Oy, you you freak, read me NOW or else I’ll shave yer beard off!”
Crack Apple & Pop (CAAP) was one such book. It was quite, quite insistent. I got away with just a few hairs being pulled out before I finally relented and picked it up. To be fair, I’ve had my eye on this one even before the opportunity to review it for this blog tour came up and had chosen it as my paperback reward for the month – this is just too gorgeous a book to languish in black and white upon my Kindle, innit!
The old cliche that you should never judge a book by its cover can do one, quite frankly. This cover screams “READ ME!” at you from 100 paces. I have genuinely no idea what the hell it means or has to do with the story inside the book, but it certainly grabs your attention and makes you pick it up and read the blurb on the back, so that’s job done then. 😉
CAAP doesn’t hang about. It dives straight into the story with our (anti)hero, Tony or T to his mates, getting the shite kicked out of him by, and I quote: Six skinheads crocked on glue and racist yip were pummelling the neighbourhood gunning for hate. They stank of Thunderbird, B & H and too many white noise meetings. It’s a brutal start to the book which unknowingly steers Tony towards his destiny of a life of crime. His mother, a nurse in the A&E where he is brought to determines that her son shall never be the victim again and sends him off for boxing lessons. Good old mum. They do say that mums know best, but in this case mum fucked up. After a particularly humiliating defeat in the ring, T is approached by a Jamaican gangster, one March Aloysius Clarence, a man whose name sounds like it should be the other way around (seriously, no wonder this dude ended up in a life of crime. Tut tut to Mr and Mrs Clarence), described in Saira’s delicious words as: …a boom boom shake the room kind of guy with dreadlocked hair, pimp cane, twenty ounce and pinkie ring, displaying more bling than Mr T of the A-Team.
The meeting between Don March and Tony is a fun chapter. It’s slightly tricky to get your mental tongue around because it contains a lot of Jamaican slang, Patois I believe it is called (Jamaican patois to be precise. You can read about it here). Take this example: Yar know Tony, you could have been a real mamadoo a top boxing champ. Shame about your eye – but it’s SURVIVAL, bwoy, listen chicken merry da hawk is near, understand? Er, nope, but then again even Tony isn’t too sure, and he is of Jamaican descent! This whole chapter is littered with Jamaican Patois and is great fun to read. Don March is a very much larger than life character and his dialogue really lifts him from the page.
Anyhoo, Tony accepts the Don’s offer and his new life begins. And all of this happens by chapter 4! Yes, Saira may be the “Punk Princess of Noir” (according to her Twitter profile), but she is also the “Quintessential Queen of Short Chapters”. She gives Jo Perry, author of the sublime “Dead is Better/Good/Best” books, and previous holder of the title, a bloody good run for her money. It’s almost as if the world is running out of words and every one must be used sparingly, and with absolutely no waste at all. You know what, I blame Stephen King. 😉
This short chapter style means that you rattle through CAAP at a fair rate of knots. It reads at a rat-a-tat-tat kind of pace. Although of course there is an overreaching arc to the book, many of the chapters are a self contained mini story with some characters appearing for one chapter and then vanishing again. Each of T’s gang gets their chance to shine, or not as the case may be, in the spotlight, and boy there are a lot of characters in CAAP. I’m not going to even try to list them all here (though special shout out to Bernie, the 4ft, blue haired gay dwarf, love him), but each and every one, even the ones who only appear for a chapter, are real, living breathing creations. The lawyer, Richard Davey, for example, has a slight Saul Goodman (Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul) vibe to him; he’s an excellent lawyer on the wrong side of the law. Some are slightly ridiculous, others have a real menace to them, most of them are likeable, whereas some of them are thoroughly detestable.
As I mentioned before, Saira wastes no time getting to the point. There is one point in the story where Tim, the slightly posher, public school boy member of T’s gang, has to smuggle some drugs into Pentonville prison dressed as a priest. The build up is priceless, with the gang all trying to convince Tim that smuggling the cannabis up his fundament will be a breeze, pandering to his more artistic side, and generally having a right old laugh at his expense. Tim of course does the deed, emerging from Pentonville heroically triumphant. This all happens in one chapter – 5 pages, one of the longer ones in this book. 😉 Another author would’ve taken another chapter, maybe two, to detail all of the tears, sweat and anxiety that the task would undoubtedly entail, but here Tim goes in….and Tim comes out again. No fuss, no muss! It’s a wonderful example of Saira’s concise style of storytelling. There is no waste. It’s wham bam thank you ma’am cool.
Quite apart from being astonishingly attractive, Saira Viola is also astonishingly multi-talented; she’s a lyricist, a novelist and a poet, and with the latter she created a style of prose she calls “sonic scatterscript”. Saira explains it better than I could here:
“Sonic Scatterscript is basically a literary idea I came up with as a poet that points to a focus on sound and rhythm. Best described with an example: “She was a wiggle and giggle chick with a slut bomb bounce.” The sentence has a very obvious rhythm. It starts out like a waltz: one two three, one two three. Then it ends on three stressed beats, rat tat tat, for percussive emphasis. Initially it feels like a hot cutie waltzing down the street, her hips swaying from side to side, and then it ends with a Cha Cha Cha. The rhythm mimics every dip of her hips, every swivel and giggle of the character. I also use assonance and consonance to tighten up the phrase, make the groove stick in your mind like a melody. Even more than diction, rhythm and melody give the line a “street” feel in tune with contemporary forms of speech like slang, rap, hip hop, punk poetry. I am as focused on the music of the language as I am on its meaning.”
This scatterscript style certainly helps Saira’s writing to bounce off of the page and helps to establish a quite unique voice, lifting the book well above the average; the prose fairly singing to you at times (Don’t worry, the whole book isn’t written that way – that would probably get annoying after a while 😉 )
There’s no doubt at all in my mind that this would make for a cracking TV series, as seems to be the case with many of the Fahrenheit Press titles that I have read. There’s a certain cinematic, highly visual quality to the their books. This book would go nicely hand-in-hand with Derek Farrell’s Danny Bird series; they share many similar qualities with the wondrous, over the top characters, London gangland setting and crazy stories – come on telly land, wake up and smell the Fahrenheit coffee here!
Crack Apple & Pop is a seriously good rollercoaster ride of a book. It’s huge fun to read and you lose yourself in the world she has created and the people therein. Darkly comic, clever, populated with dozens of truly interesting characters, fantastic dialogue and a prose that lights up the page. With chapters barely 4 pages long you will rattle through it in no time, but the characters and story will linger in your mind for much longer. Here’s hoping that we see a lot more of T, Bernie, Scoot, Tim, Dipsy, La La and the gang very, very soon.
Saira Viola is an acclaimed novelist, poet, and song lyricist. From her early poetic experimentation with language, image and sound (a technique she has dubbed sonic scatterscript) to her novelistic ventures into the dark, absurd world of contemporary crime fiction, Viola’s work pulses with iconoclastic brio that mischievously blasts the golden calves of our times. Literary Heavyweight Benjamin Zephaniah, has praised her ‘twisted beautiful imagination,’ and polymathic genius, Heathcote Williams (RIP) her ‘hypnotic explosive’, writing style. Twice Nominated for Best of The Net 2017 Pushcart Prize Nominee 2017 Rascal Magazine. Viola’s poetry collection Flowers of War debuted at the New York Poetry Festival and published by UB Press. Novels Jukebox (Fahrenheit Press) Crack Apple and Pop (Fahrenheit Press) Viola is a regular contributor to counterculture magazines Gonzo Today and International Times.