High Action Served With No Frills

Cry of the Justice Bird

by Jon Haylett
Publisher: PaperBooks
Review: Mike

"I will hunt for them, Armstrong."

If you like extreme action books, then you'll like Jon Haylett's debut book Cry of the Justice Bird. It's atmospheric, violent and relentless in its drive to provide revenge served up with blood, guts and half-naked girls.

"I was emotionally as charged as a thundercloud. I was overawed by the place, by its strangeness, by its excitement."

Jon places the reader into a panoramic African landscape, instills suspense, then pushes the reader's face into sickening violence. And this is good. The killings are not sanitised. You recoil, rather than float on by untouched by what humans can do to each other. This is no A-Team adventure. It is gritty, messy, disturbing.

The story is about extracting revenge. Armstrong McKay and African, Temba Mbanga, track down the murderers of their women with the aim of executing them.

It pretty much that simple.

There isn't much character development. The sentence constructions could be tighter, with words chopped out, much like the limbs of the men Armstrong and Temba get hold of. Armstong's love interests at times feel more like his fantasises and he is left at the end musing, "I wasn't sure what I was drawing a line under." If you are looking for layers in the novel and an ending that reveals Armstrong, you'll be thinking the same thing. Armstrong has little self-awareness, so you're not going to find out much about him by listening to his account of the adventure, other than the simple cause and effect of a wrong has been done: I take revenge.


But:

There is humour:

"So?" I said, "Nice floor. Nice carpet. Nice bed. Nice ..."
"Dung."
"Dung?"
"Cow dung, mud, and plenty polish."
"Blimey!"
Lots of things were like that.

Crocodiles: (you've got to have crocodiles!)

The water, a few yards behind the boat, swirled and, in the light of my torch, I saw the body of a reptile, a great, long, scaly beast that rotated, the pale flesh of his belly clearly visible as he rolled and rolled and rolled again.

And despite its flaws I liked it. It has a certain naivety to it and perhaps in the end that is its strength. A dose of high action with no side orders. A book that taps into the sometimes dormant sense of adventure in the modern man. Hang the reasons and deconstruction of reviewers like me. It's a steak cooked rare, with no side salad: You killed my girl: bring on the guns.

Order Jon's book at Amazon here.
Visit Paperbooks here.

Coming soon: Jon talks to The View From Here and we launch a Paperbooks competition where you can win signed copies of Jon's book, Gary Davison's Fat Tuesday and our very own Paul Burman's The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore.

3 comments:

gary davison said...

Count me in for the competition, a signed book of Jon and Paul is worth the entry fee alone!

Anonymous said...

girls enjoy it too - and 90- year old grandmothers!

Paul said...

I remember thoroughly enjoying Justice Bird when I read it last year. At the time, I felt it would make a great film because it's such a 'visual' piece of writing, and the descriptions of the landscape helped me appreciate the film Blood Diamond all the more. In fact, the landscape is, in many senses, the main character in Jon's novel, I feel. I always enjoy that in a novel, when I discover my attention has been subtly directed elsewhere, and that the narrator/hero is in some ways not really at the very centre of things. (Can't check up on a couple of names because my son read it and then took it away with him!)