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Robin Llywelyn is experiencing "The morning after the life before. The uber-hangover."
The alcoholic and self-destructive detective is common to the point of cliché in crime fiction, but most carry on to take another case, and make a living. Robert Lewis' character's lifestyle has effectively ended his professional career - he was destitute and he is now terminally ill. He has woken up in a hospice, and learns from a couple of visiting police detectives that he is a washed up Private Investigator, who is avoiding prosecution only because he perhaps has a couple of months left, as he is dying of lung cancer.
This grim situation is the starting point for a darkly and bizarrely funny novel. After a few days coming off morphine and going out of the hospice to look for a drink, Llywelyn receives a parcel containing a letter, a gun and some cash, and leaves the hospice to find out what he has done. I was not always sure of the motivation for his actions, but he has nothing left to lose, and some sort of curiosity and urge to tie up loose ends.
Bank of the Black Sheep is in fact the third novel in a trilogy (following The Last Llanelli Train and Swansea Terminal), but I believe it works quite well on its own - readers who haven't read the previous books will find out what's going on when the antihero does. It is slow paced to begin with as he mooches about rather aimlessly, but the pace picks up later.
I don't know why I like Llywelyn so much - he is totally incompetent as an investigator and a bit of a disaster as a human being. But I did find this novel witty, not laugh out loud funny but plenty of sardonic one liners about his situation. A scene in which he takes another hospice patient out on a sort of date (things don't go well) shows him as feeling some concern about another vulnerable human being. Oddly considering his physical state, he seems to take more responsibility for what happens to him in this book than in the previous volumes of the trilogy.
I don't think this is intended to be a piece of gritty realism. Would someone in such an advanced state of illness be able to act as he does? Also, the plot is preposterous if I think about it too much, so I won't. I don't really think that's the point. For fans of noir and crime fiction, probably the main audience for this story, Lewis plays with lots of staples of PI and noir crime fiction, and that's one of the most interesting aspects of the book.
If you like Robert Lewis, you might also enjoy Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series set in Galway, begining with The Guards.
This is an amended version of a review which first appeared at the Bookbag
Format: Paperback 279 pages
Publisher: Serpent's Tail July 2010
ISBN: 978 1846687457
RRP £7.99; current Amazon selling price £5.99