Dead Cat Bounce by Kevin Scott
What’s the story: 24 hours before the funeral of their little brother, Matt and Peter have to start to work together to pay a gangster £20,000 to have the body and coffin returned in time for the service – and without their hysterical mother finding out.
You’ll like it if you like: Orphans, Breaking Bad, The Shield, Matt Bendoris’ crime novels, Chris Brookmyre, 24 (the good seasons).
Oh goody, another Scottish crime novel, there’s not many of them these days. In fairness to Kevin Scott and his debut novel Dead Cat Bounce, there’s no bitter cops, no anti-hero loner from CID and no sympathetic gangster here. What you do have is a relatively normal family where each person has their foibles and one of them has spectacularly screwed up.
The premise is straightforward: it’s the day before the funeral of 11-year-old Nicky in Glasgow. His older brother Matt receives a call from a gangster that he owes £20,000 to with the gangster telling Matt he has hidden the coffin and body until he gets his money. The financially challenged Matt then has less than 24 hours to get it. Should he ask his brother Peter – who he hates and has secrets of his own – for the cash or do it another way?
TL; DR version – I really enjoyed this. It’s a straightforward yet unusual concept and the book wastes no time getting right into it with very realistic reactions from all concerned.
The book alternates chapters between the two brothers so you get to see a balanced perspective on them, what they made of their brothers and how they view the world, their family and everything in-between. And it’s here that Scott – especially for a debut novel – pulls off wonders. He achieves that tricky balance of making these characters realistic but not Mary Sues or any other plot device. These are two – being blunt – relatively unlikeable people that aren’t actually bad people. You find yourself rooting for them not because of what has happened to them (which would be relatively easy) but because, despite their flaws, they aren’t really bad people – and that comes down to the skill of the writing.
Another nice touch is that Scott achieves this by using internal monologues to move the characters forward. In the hands of a lesser writer this could have been used as padding over the novel’s short timeframe or be self-indulgent. It’s neither, but it does let us see these characters for who we are and lets the reader decide how much we want to sympathise with them and root for them.
It’s not just the characters that are thought through though. The novel has a nice pace to it without relying on a blatant ticking clock. This works particularly well in certain parts of the novel as Matt sees a way out of his predicament (one the reader knows is certain to fail) but Scott takes us through – over chapters – the mounting drama and tension as Matt goes through with it.
Some minor, not grave, issues with the book…
If the book has any minor failings. I’d say that the female characters don’t get as much time as the males, but Scott still goes out of his way to make sure that the mother especially is given a bit of space in the book, so you can see some issues from her perspective.
Also – and this is probably just me – the ending feels a little rushed, though this seems to be a modern trend in fiction with everyone either saving it all for a sequel or just don’t want to deliver a look at where all the chips lie at the end.
Also, the humour comes more from observation and situation than one-liners and quips (hence the reference to Orphans at the start of this post) which is refreshing but some may be expecting gags being thrown about like coffins and that doesn’t happen here. There is humour but how funny you find it will depend on you more than the characters.
A bunch of sympathetic bastards
What’s interesting about Dead Cat Bounce is that, unlike so many novels, there’s no overall redemptive arc for many of the characters with everyone walking out with happy endings. There’s potential change in the characters but how much of that is down to the stress of the day and how much is sincere is something readers will have to wait and see – and I hope we do get the chance to see because there’s one, maybe two, good sequels in this world that Scott has created.
(God knows they all deserve it because by the end of the book, you have a fairly accurate portrayal of a family who have had their ups and downs through grief as much as anything else and you can’t help but feel for them.)
For an 800-odd word book review I’ve not given too much away and that’s very much deliberate as there’s some cute twists and turns in this book and it’s worth going into it without knowing too much. Fair to say if you enjoy crime or dark humour and you’re looking for a new book from a new author then this is a good spend of a few quid and a few hours. Go get it.