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If I ever saw a real angel the chances are that I would be dead or perhaps having a near death experience. I like to imagine them as being beautiful men and women adorned with vast white wings and backlit with celestial white light. Perhaps a small cherub will float by on a cloud strumming a tune on their suspiciously small lyre. Imagine then your surprise is you met a bloke calling himself Angel that was driving a black cab. An aging, balding, cockney chancer who considers themselves a bit of an expert in the underworld of crime and vice. With a knowledge of crime and a knowledge of The Knowledge Angel can freelance himself out as a off the books private eye. Welcome to the world of hairy angels.
The brewers of Kent are not happy with the governments stance on booze runners. An epidemic has broken out were all the off licences and pubs in the county are selling illegal French beer rather than home grown hops. One local brewery decides to hire Angel, who is currently working for his wife ferrying models around, to try and discover who are the main culprits of this smuggling ring. Angel gets more than he bargains for when he ends up as temporary landlord of the last honest pub in Kent. What seems a pretty easy case soon gets darker when hard nosed criminals get involved. Can Angel bring down the booze runner? More importantly, can he ever work out how to change a barrel?
Bootlegged Angel is a very leisurely novel and it certainly takes its time getting to the action. In fact the first half of the book feels more like a nice country tale than crime fiction. However, this does not actually pose that much of an issue as the character and setting easily let you enjoy them; even if they are quite mundane. Ripley is able to create a good narrative that draws the reader in; every now and again it is nice to read a slower book. The pace reflects the laid back attitude of Angel as he goes about his business. I like the character a lot as he has a roguish charm and often quite funny.
The supporting roles are also good in this book as, although they are not very developed, they are well realised. Angels wife appears briefly in the title and I assume that in earlier books she was far more central. The characters that come out best in this book are the ones that Angel meets on his case including, saddo students, crazy old barmaids and muttering old majors. By filling the story with plenty of funny and easily recognisable characters Ripley is able to make even the driest observations fun to read.
The lack of pace is not an issue throughout as Bootlegged Angel has a very exciting and satisfying finale. I read lots of crime and thriller fiction and one of the most common problems with a book is that it ends poorly. Ripley manages to create energy in the book that rises to a satisfying peak at the end. I like the characters in my books to get what they deserve and this happens in this case.
One area that could prove an issue for some is the fact that the book feels too preachy in parts. I imagine that the author lives in Kent somewhere and perhaps has a vested interest in the pub or off licenses of the area. Most people that bring alcohol over from the continent are average people, fed up of paying high taxes. However, the group that appear in this book are big and nasty. They are able to shift so much booze because customs is far more interested in stopping drugs and cigarettes getting into Britain. I for one am not that sympathetic to people who go over to France and get caught dont do the crime and all that. However, for some people Ripley slightly pious tone throughout might prevent them from enjoying any other elements of the story.
For fans of funny crime fiction Bootlegged Angel is a more than adequate addition to my reading. He goes alongside the Elvis Cole novels or Colin Batemans work. The book is pretty slow paced in parts and the anti-booze cruisers message may be too strong for some. I found it a very entertaining read and look forward to visiting Angel and his undercover taxi again soon. Plus, who could resist reading a book with a picture of a cheeky moustached author inside the front cover?
Author: Mike Ripley
Price: amazon uk - £6.99