BOOK REVIEW: The Kebab King by Richard Rippon

BOOK REVIEW: The Kebab King by Richard Rippon


Tommy Rowland is overweight, in debt and lives alone over The Kebab King takeaway in Newcastle. Hardly the archetypal private detective. And Tommy’s work, consisting almost entirely of discreetly filming cheating spouses for his clients, hardly makes him Elmore Leonard material. Just as his debts to local businessman and gangster Kenny Gibson are about to be called in, he is hired by fading 80’s pop star Marty Del Rio to find his missing step-daughter Jasmine. What first seems like an easy pay day soon leads Tommy way out of his depth, into a maelstrom of brutal violence, gangsters, corruption and meat.

The Kebab King is Richard Rippon‘s first self-published novel, but with his confident plotting and ear for dialogue, you really wouldn’t know it. The sad sack Tommy makes a change from the self-consciously bad-ass private dicks of most detective novels, and the Newcastle setting is very well evoked.

The early chapters draw you in with their witty dialogue and larger-than-life characters, but Rippon avoids the temptation to go for all-out comedy, and deftly steers us into much darker territory as Tommy realises the Del Rio case is not the simple family feud case he had initially thought. The violence, when it comes, is unflinching, Rippon again using this to skilfully steer away from the parody that many writers would have slipped in to. There are also some surprisingly touching moments, particularly those involving Tommy’s family, consisting of his mother, who is suffering from growing dementia, and his closeted brother. Tommy’s ex, Alison, also returns to town, the flashbacks to their failed relationship again providing some genuinely tender and sad moments, and reveal the failings and cowardice inherent in Tommy’s nature (the scenes with Alison are frankly a far better depiction of a failing relationship than David Szalay’s lauded recent novel Spring). Personally, I would have liked to have felt a little more of the sleaze of Tommy’s work filming cheating spouses, and the damage this does, and a sense of what Tommy’s moral stance was on this, if any.

This is clever, funny and compelling crime-fiction. There is definite potential here for a whole series of Tommy Rowland novels or short stories. Whatever Rippon does next, I will be at the front of the queue to read it.

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