Jack the Lad and Bloody Mary
Jack is a handsome young tearaway who does well out of at least the first years of the Second World War. Mary is his posher, steadier, certainly duller girl friend. These two are at the centre of this tale of murder, thievery, abortion and general mayhem; around them revolve a cast of characters, almost all of them more or less delinquent, including senior mobster, Jonathan Leakey, a Mr Big called Nigel Wisely who has an unrelenting prediliction for camp insinuations, and Dickie Wheat, a drug-and drink-addicted doctor.
Joseph Connolly is rather good at creating the atmosphere of wartime England, that unique brew of draughty rooms, dirt, snobbery, foul smells and intermittent terror. It gives an intriguing backdrop to what is otherwise a somewhat conventional tale. At times the recreation of the past relies on such familiar detail that it becomes almost parodic. Thus, Mary’s old dad’s memories of the First World War do not fail to include kicking a soccer ball about between the trenches and Mary herself ends up with an American officer called Gary Brooklyn (!) who is tall and handsome and gives her Chesterfield cigarettes and promises to take her home with him to Tennessee. You can almost hear the slither of ‘One-Yank-and-They’re-Off.’
Connolly chooses to tell his story mainly in a first-person stream-of-consciousness with the protagonists swapping the narrative voice. While it offers the reader a certain intimacy with the characters, there is a risk that the style will degenerate into unfocused rambling. Connolly has not really managed to avoid this danger; in fact the book might well have been twice as good if it was half as long.