Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Review - BEAST OF BURDEN by Ray Banks

Hi folks,

I tried to write a worthy review of Ray Banks' novel, BEAST OF BURDEN, and feel like I failed miserably. I just don't have the words to do it justice. Here's what I came up with and all I can say is... you gotta read this book!

Ray Banks


Wow. A world like the one I existed in when I was in my salad criminal days and which I’m pretty sure still exists intact. Where the cops have no morals and the outlaws do. I frickin’ loved this novel! And, I loved/hated the ending! I won’t spoil it here, but man! All I’ll say is that it fits perfectly Flannery O’Connor’s definition of a perfect ending—that it completely surprise and come clear out of left field, but that upon reflection it be the only possible ending. (That’s badly paraphrased, but I hope you get what I mean.)

Banks is just one of the best writers writing today. Period. I can’t think of another book that so clearly reveals the real relationships between lawdogs and outlaws than Beast of Burden does. Banks understands. Understands both criminals and cops and understands them perfectly. Never have I read an account of this world that is this true.

This isn’t so much a review than it is a collection of scattered thoughts. For instance, I identified immediately with Cal Innes. He’s a character not only unlike any I’ve ever encountered in fiction—he’s also a character I related to with a kind of weird reason. Not only is he a criminal like I was for a long time, but he’s also suffered a stroke. That was eerie as I suffered a series of ten mini-strokes (TIAs) a couple of years ago. Not only that, but like myself, he keeps on smoking. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him during the entire novel. Who writes characters like this? No one but Ray Banks could and carry it off. This just felt like my story, not simply because of the physical condition of Innes, but more in the way he sees the world and his place in it. And the cop, Donkin (the Donkey, as he’s called derisively, by his enemies on both sides of the law and there are many), is like the best cops I’ve ever known. He’s driven by his own terrible moral code which is much the same as is his chief foe, Innes. For those of us who’ve been career criminals, there is always a nemesis like Donkin. A guy you hate and a guy you love, but above all, a guy you respect. He’s no pussy.

Above all, this is a moral novel. Not in the traditional Judeo-Christian sense (although that’s part of it), but in the same sense as Borges’ novels are. Or Camus’ or any of the best existential writers. In other words, this is as far from Disney as one can get. I feel very inadequate to describe this novel accurately and all I can say is this: You’ve got to read it. It’s a clash of titans and it’s one of those few books that has already become a part of me and one that I’ll always remember. It was overwhelming.

I’m so thankful for intelligent writers and intelligent books!

Blue skies,


Nigel Bird said...

Blue skies indeed.

That review has sold me, not that I needed convincing about Ray's work.

Hopefully loads will read it. Hopefully some of us will learn.

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, Nigel! BTW, I've started SMOKE and I love the way it begins with the kid getting depantsed! I'll be reviewing it when I'm finished and I know it's going to be a terrific read. It already is.

Paul D Brazill said...

Great book. The whole Call Inness quartet is worth reading from beginning to end just to see how every event affects Inness- how he doesn't just shake off the damage,like most fictionl P I's.

Luca Veste said...

Yep, Banks is definitely one of the best around. Great review Les!