Two summers ago I heard a remembrance of Iain Banks on public radio and I realized I needed to read something by him. I got onto Amazon and added several novels to my wish list and Stonemouth to my cart. Once it arrived it sat in my stack of books-to-be-read and was gradually covered by subsequently ordered books. This fall I was ready. Based on Stonemouth, Iain Banks is the opposite of Nicholas Sparks. Men dominate the novel–gritty crime-family men and overly soft and corrupt men from working-class backgrounds who have risen to the middle class through education. The novel opens on a bridge, a bridge from which many have fallen or been pushed and Banks holds the reader in tension wondering if the narrator, Stewart, will survive the first chapter. He slowly reveals Stewart’s history with the teaser that he was run out of town several years ago and narrowly escaped with his life. At the heart of this dramatic exit was a sin that is only revealed in the last third of the novel and not before much drinking, drug consumption, and some old-fashioned beatings and intimidations. The novel takes place in a small Scottish town (or toun, if you please) dominated by two rival crime families who make deals with the police and are patrons of those in official power in town. Stewart’s story opens on a bridge and Iain closes the novel with another bridge—a woman who bridges the unreal crime world of the toun with the reality outside and who bridges Stewart’s past, present, and future.
The grit is not my thing, but the story drew me in and I held my breath over and over when it looked as though Stewart might not survive the novel (how gritty was the novel going to be?). It drew me in enough that I just ordered my second Iain Banks’ novel, The Quarry. Hopefully it won’t take two years to make it to the top of my to-be-read pile.