Its worth remembering that people can hold grudges from school. When I was in secondary school I was not one of the cool kids, but not quite one of the geeks. Essentially this meant that although I received some flak, I dished some out too. I wouldnt think that it was beyond the realms of possibility that there are people out there who didnt think too kindly of me back then. However, would they seek revenge for the next two decades? I doubt it! Did you ever do something as a child that was so mean that the repercussions may still affect you now?
Big' Jessie Black (Jed) is a journalist still tortured by memories of being bullied as a child. He has spent his career trying to ruin the lives of those that left him damaged. However, recently he has decided to enter semi retirement as one investigation left him with a million pound flat and an allegation of manslaughter. It is only when Jay meets an all female band, and their lead singer Scarlet, that he begins to get involved in dangerous cases again. You see, Scarlet has just been murdered and Jay is sure that the IRA knows where her body is. Can Jay find peace whilst avoiding both the IRA and the Royal Guard?
Although not the most light and pleasant of synopsis Big Jessie is actually a comedy. The childhood trauma of Jed is used as a foil for Radcliffe to create havoc for the character. The characters in the book are very well developed to make us understand and sympathise for them. Jed is the most developed as he is central to the plot. The fact that he was once fat and bullied has made him a ruthless journalist who does not have that many scruples. This means that he is able to do quite a lot of mean things and the reader will still like him. I think that Radcliffe has managed to create a very flawed, but funny, character in Jed.
The rest of the book is populated by other funny and well observed characters. Jeds two best friends give him someone to bounce ideas off and the love interest of Scarlet is very good. Scarlet is the lead singer in a rock band and only wears red. Despite these eccentricities Radcliffe is able to paint her in a good light making her enigmatic and soulful.
Radcliffes final success with character is the creation of two very real feeling enemies for Jed. This book is set in early 21st Century Northern Ireland during a time when the two sides are planning to join in a combined assembly. Rather than using the real historic figures Radcliffe has created people who have similarities. One man is Martin OHanlon, a charismatic and bearded ex-terrorist who looks like coming to power. The other is a weazly NI Police Chief who will do anything to prevent OHanlon coming to power. Both OHanlon and the Police Chief act in very powerful and scary ways and gives the book its darker edge. I would argue that they actually give the book too much of a political feel and detract from the humour making it too depressing at times.
Radcliffes writing style is strong throughout but he does tend to sometimes set up for a joke rather than concentrate on the narrative. The final area of misgiving I have is the fact that the book reads so much like a poor mans Colin Bateman. Bateman has been writing very funny NI based books for years around his low life reporter Dan Starkey. Unfortunately Jed and Radcliffe are no match for this duo and end up second best in every department. If Radcliffe had kept more closely to his first novel set in London, this may not have proved an issue.
Being second best to Bateman is no bad thing as he is a genius, however it does stop this book from being a classic. There is no doubting that there are some great laugh out load moments, and for this the book is very good. However, Radcliffes insistence on set up over narrative, and his delving into politics, does make this book flip too much from light to dark. With some more experience and a more original story Radcliffes first 5 out of 5 must be inevitable.
Author: Zane Radcliffe
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