Ray Banks' 'Sucker Punch' not quite a knockout

February 9, 2009 12:16:19 PM PST
Writing a character-based series in the mystery and thriller genres is a tough act to pull off.

You have to create a personality that's memorable and likable over and over, come up with a plot that engages the reader every time and keep the writing fresh despite the reader's familiarity with the subject.

Scottish author Ray Banks hits two of the three marks in his second Cal Innes novel, "Sucker Punch." Innes, for all his faults and problems, is an engaging character with a sharp sense of humor and a ton of turmoil in his life. And Banks, a member of the so-called "Brit grit" movement, has an easy, breezy style that keeps you flipping the pages.

Yet "Sucker Punch," perhaps purposely, lacks a satisfying plot. It's not that all of its loose ends need to be wrapped up nicely - mysteries in real life are rarely solved after all.

In this case, the story line seems intentionally obtuse, leaving the reader with the feeling that the book was little more than an excuse to move our anti-hero on to the next installment in the series. Is it a thriller or mystery, or just a story about a guy who is a trouble magnet?

"Sucker Punch" is a fish-and-chips-out-of-water story about Innes, a small-time criminal with violent tendencies who's fresh out of prison and trying to find something to do with his pitiful life. His back is killing him and he gobbles painkillers constantly. And he still has more than a pint or two, though he knows alcohol helps push him to the edge of control.

He works at Paulo's Gym for a friend. Once he finishes his probation, the friend asks him to escort a young, if volatile, fighter to Los Angeles for an amateur competition that could be his big break.

Our fighter, Liam, is a surly young lad who gives off nothing but attitude and immediately gets into it with the competition once he lands in Los Angeles.

While the kid hits the heavy bag at the gym, Innes finds himself at the hotel bar with nothing to do but drink, wait till it's time for his next pain pill and grind his teeth about the fact that he can't find any place in America where he can smoke a cigarette in peace.

He meets a guy who could lend a helping hand, accidentally accepts a bribe from the main competition's father and things spin out of control in a matter of two or three days.

Pretty standard stuff, but done with enough style and wit to make us pick up the next book in the series.