Cathy has done a runner with a big bag of cash. Her boyfriend, Jackson, was holding it for a local heavy fella… who in turn is feeling the heat from the heavy mob above him on the food chain. As soon as anyone gets a sniff of the situation then they want in on the action – cue the kind of lying, cheating, thieving and beatings which add up to a truly satisfying slice of gritty Britcrime.
This story hits the ground running and pounds along at a punishing pace; author Paul Heatley doesn’t waste time on endless exposition and the life story of every two-bit bystander. We get to know the main players by sharing their internal monologues – and by seeing them through each other’s eyes. So The Runner is stuffed with smart, snarky observations as the characters compete to get the girl, grab the stash, sidestep a thrashing… or maybe deliver one.
In her haste to make a clean getaway, Cathy has to hide out in her small-town seaside childhood home; the place she hoped she’d left forever. This leads to a skin-crawling encounter with a repellent ex-boyfriend – but he may not be quite as dumb as he looks. And she may have exposed her nice, semi-detached, suburban parents to the brutal reality of bottom-feeding slimeball crime…
Like all the best heist movies, The Runner delivers twists and tension aplenty as the memorable cast of misfits and losers attempt to get their mitts on the money. No doubt it’ll be described as ‘Newcastle noir’ because Heatley lets his characters speak with an authentic regional accent and throws in some local slang – but it doesn’t feel artificial or forced, just adds to the sense of place.
Although the story romps along satisfactorily, The Runner suffers slightly because few of the central characters are particularly sympathetic. I didn’t care much what came of Cathy or Jackson – in fact, now I come to think about it, their bullying, bodybuilding nemesis was a far more interesting person. But then, I always did like bad boys.
This is a pretty rapid read, an afternoon’s entertainment. It’s part of a series but I hadn’t read any of the author’s earlier crime fiction and had no trouble picking up the threads. So feel free to grab it as a standalone – and waay-the-boys.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Runner by Paul Heatley is available at Amazon