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Askew Review 15

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by Kevin Sampson.  Fiction, 2001.  314 Pages.  Jonathan Cape/Random House Publishing- With “Outlaws,” English author Kevin Sampson has unwittingly launched himself onto my top five favorite writers list. For those keeping score, the other members of this jaunty club include Charles Bukowski, Irivne Welsh, Jim Thompson and Edward Bunker.  At least that’s what a quick perusal of my bookshelves tells me.  After looking at these shelves again, I’m tempted to throw in some “honorable mentions,” but why should I bore you any further than I have so far?  To make it into my top five (and I’m not trying to steal any sort of theme from Nick Hornby here {though Mr. Hornby actually would be in my “honorable mentions” if I did list them}), I have to very much like or love just about everything I’ve ever read by said author.  The thing that impresses me most about Kevin Sampson is the diversity of his four books of fiction.  His first book, “Awaydays,” is the blood-pumping story of an upper class young man who spends most of his time rucking it up as a soccer thug.  His next book, “Powder,” is about the meteoric rise and fall of an English band in the late ‘90s.  It’s a fantastic, must-read for anyone who has ever been in a band.  The following book, “Leisure,” is an amazingly fast, fun story about a group of young vacationers drinking, drugging and sexing it up in a tropical paradise. 

After reading Sampson’s other books, I couldn’t wait to get into “Outlaws.”  My expectations were high, and I was definitely not disappointed.  The story is told primarily from the points of view of its three main characters: Ged, Moby and Ratter, all relatives and long-time criminal associates.  When the book begins, Ged is planning a tidy robbery that should put enough money in their pockets to last them the next several months.  As usual, he’s keeping tight-lipped about the specifics of the job, preferring to let the others know the details only right before things are to go off.  In some very “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” moments, things get out of control and the caper becomes just one aspect in a myriad of pressure-filled situations and craziness visited upon all three main characters.  There’s lots of double-dealing and trying to out-think the other guy, and the story builds to a tense, exciting, unexpected conclusion.   

Besides the book’s strong plot, the characters are a real treat, especially Ged.  Ged considers himself as part of a dying breed, an honorable thief among the scumbags and back-stabbers of today’s criminal world.  With the accumulated wealth of his crimes, he tries to give back as much as he can to the community, especially to groups like poor children and the elderly.  He has a hilarious hatred of asshole drivers, and some of the stuff he does to them are things I only wish I were capable of doing myself.  At times Ged reminds me of Tony Soprano.  He’s got some of the same issues with his nouveau riche family, and he’s got a similar capacity for doing really dark things that you forgive him for in the end, just because he’s so likeable in other ways.  Moby is a good-natured, good-time kind of guy who happens to be able to kick just about anybody’s ass.  His huge appetite for “punyani” (American translation: pussy) sometimes gets him in trouble, but he always manages to get by in the end. Moby’s simple, no-nonsense narratives are all pretty entertaining, especially when he talks about fucking and fighting.  Ratter, as his name implies, is a sleazebag who has very few, if any, redeeming qualities.  He’s a cunning little bastard who has no qualms about fucking everybody over in the name of looking out for number one.  I’m impressed with how pathetic and hateful Kevin Sampson was able to make him. 

“Outlaws” is written in a Liverpool vernacular that is as poetic as it is at times hard to understand.  For American readers it may be rough deciphering exactly what’s being said here and there, but eventually you figure it out.  While it’s not as drastic as “A Clockwork Orange” or “Trainspotting,” I did catch myself starting to unconsciously spew out some of the slang from this book in much the same manner as I did after reading those classics. – Ben Hunter



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