Cherijo Grey Veil leaves Earth behind for a job as a trauma doctor on distant Kevarzanga 2. Why? In short, her father’s an overbearing control freak. Not just a control freak, but one angora cat away from being a James Bond villain, at least in personality. So when Cherijo arrives aboard an off-record interstellar shuttle, she is accused of incompetence by her new boss without having met him before, and thrown into an understaffed, underequipped free clinic. In the meantime, her father “orders” her back to Earth, to which Cherijo has to remind him he can’t do to an adult. In the meantime, she manages to deliver the babies of a killer alien species, become engaged to a man from a warrior race, pick up a telepathic stalker, and detect and cure a bizarre plague. So she’s found her new home, right?
Well, this is Book 1 of Viehl’s Stardoc series, so no. Stardoc, without giving too much away, ends with the start of an interstellar war over Cherijo. Of course, it’s her father’s fault. Told you he was an ass.
This nasty piece of noir originally appeared a few years ago as The Big Blind by Blasted Heath‘s spiritual ancestor, Point Blank Press. Ray Banks’ debut concerns Alan Slater, double glazing salesman and harmless douchebag. Really, his main sin is cheating on his wife with a college girl he met while pub crawling. His real problem is his best friend, Les Beale. Les is a hopeless drunk and gambler. Problems begin when Alan hits a dog on his way to see his girlfriend. The honest thing to do would be to tell the owner “Hey, your dog ran out in front of my car. Sorry, mate.” So naturally, Slater throws the dog in the drink and says nothing. Unfortunately, he’s dented the car, left his trunk stinking of dead dog, and kept a liquor store receipt from the wrong part of town. He’s able to blow all this off until Les calls him in the middle of the night. Seems a poker game did not go the way Les wanted, and now he has a corpse in his apartment.
Slater should have hung up the phone, but it’s only then he tries to do the decent thing and help Les out. Instead of making Les’s problem go away, it only draws Slater deeper into Les’s death spiral. He soon finds himself on the hook for a huge sum of money Les owes to a Pakistani gangster, and the gangster doesn’t care that Slater never consented to the deal. From there, Slater’s life (and stomach) disintegrate.
After eight years, the story still holds up well. There’s even an appearance by DS Donkin, the nemesis of Banks’s other creation, Cal Innes. Banks knows his stuff. And while the influence of Ken Bruen is evident in the storyline and the tone, Banks’s prose replaces Bruen’s Irish lyrical poetry with the harsh buzz saw of Manchester, England. Dark, unrelenting, and brutal, what Banks excels at.