Saturday, 22 November 2014

Lock Down Blues

Generally I stay away from self-published work. There's a lot of dross out there and my suspicion is always that self-published authors just don't have what it takes to attract a publishing contract. That might sound harsh but as an aspiring novelist myself I believe that writing is about perfecting your craft. You've just got to work at it, keep perfecting and perfecting, until the publishers just can't say no. My suspicion, fair or not, is that a lot of self-published writers just don't have the patience or dedication to do this and so cut corners and cheat. Hence the large numbers of self published work full of glaring grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Whether my view is fair or overly pessimistic, I am happy to say that Lock Down Blues defies my expectations. Instead, it's a well written and well crafted insight into prison life. The author, himself a former prison officer, clearly knows his subject well and this shows. There's no discernible plot as such, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Instead we're treated to the intersecting stories of five lifers: 'Diamond' Perry, a black gangster who robs a lock-up owned by the yards and gets sold out by a bigger criminal; Johnny Scapes, a hairdresser who and drug trafficker; Tony Masters, just an all round unpleasant thug; Culter Grove, a jack-the-lad but vicious criminal; and Brian Lincoln who's caught doing an audacious cash heist. While each of these story stands are separate they do all intertwine towards the end when they end up in the same prison.

Prison life is well portrayed here, no surprise being penned by a former prison officer, and the causal violence in prison is frightening. In particular I was taken aback by the violence meted out to prison wardens - one officer stabbed in the throat and all the other prisoners just stand around and laugh. If this is really what prison is like I wouldn't want to work there.

If I have one criticism it is that sometimes it is a little hard to tell the tales apart and on occasion I had to flip back to see which character was which. Similarly, the end of the book says: To be continued. While I will have no hesitation reading future offering from Ray Wilcox, the author, I do wonder whether he can sustain more in this series without a strong central plot.

All in all I give this 4 to of 5 stars.

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