Back Door to Hell by Paul Gadsby: Everybody be cool, that was a robbery!

Back Door to HellBack Door to Hell

by Paul Gadsby


Kindle Edition, 213 pg.
Fahrenheit 13, 2019
Read: February 25, 2019

‘Sometimes you gotta take what you need, right when you need it.’

Giving this little piece of brotherly advice might end up being be the worst thing Darren ever did to his younger brother, Nate. Although making a call to his boss back in London for help getting the two of them out of a police cell in Majorca is a contender. Darren’s boss, Crawford, is one of the biggest criminals in London and his help comes with a price. We don’t know what all Darren had to repay Crawford, but Nate had to go to work in a sleazy bar and pool club for a month. It’s nothing major, watch the bar, sell some crisps, wash dishes, don’t ask questions, don’t pay attention to anything.

This would likely be the first step of Nate following his brother’s example and becoming another one of Crawford’s men. But Nate meets Jen, an art student trying to make enough money to go back to school. Unlike Nate, Jen’s figured out that the real reason this dive is still operational is that as a cash business, it’s an ideal way for Crawford to launder money. Not only has she noted this, she’s figured out when the safe is full of Crawford’s various Ill-Gotten Gains and the best time to relieve him of them. She just needs a partner. Enter Nate.

Jen explains the plan to Nate, and drawing on his need for money, his utter lack of a plan for his life, his brother’s bad advice, and the fact that this plan is explained by an attractive young woman with great hair, he’s in.

Here’s the catch: as anyone who’s read Jack Reacher, Spenser, or any number of similar things can tell you, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Jen’s plan dissolves after first contact, as you’d expect. Sadly, first contact happens a whole lot sooner than she’d anticipated (Jen, the healthy young woman, underestimates the laziness of an middle-aged apathetic fat guy). Undeterred, Nate and Jen grab the money and run. Due more to luck and circumstance than experience and skill (and better mechanics), Jen’s little Fiesta is able to get the pair to safety following a car chase.

As I mentioned the plan is junked by this point — and they trash it even further. They’re supposed to split up for mutual safety, but are so freaked out at this point that they can’t think about going on without each other. So the two work together to get out of London, and make preparations to leave the UK entirely to try to escape Crawford’s reach.

Crawford meanwhile, is turning over every rock he can to get his hands on the two of them — and more importantly, the money. Most of which was promised to some associates. Besides, there’s the principle of it all — what kind of crimelord let’s a couple of twentysomethings driving a piece of junk car rip him off? We end up spending a lot more time with Crawford than I expected — not just him, but his wife and kid, too. Crawford’s son Ollie is on the Autism Spectrum and watching Crawford try to father him, try to communicate with him is both touching and instructive about the character. It does more than humanize the character, but I don’t want to ruin anything with my speculations about Gadsby’s intentions, so just know there’s a lot going on in the scenes with Crawford’s family.

Just because he’s human, doesn’t mean he’s not ruthless or that he doesn’t have a large and violent workforce. Nate and Jen are quite aware of that, and get more aware of it by the moment (although they might debate the “human” bit). They bounce around England, trying to stay off the radar while gathering things like passports and undocumented travel to Europe. There are close calls with Crawford’s men, dealings with less than savory figures, and the kind of paranoia that comes about when they are out to get you — their new life isn’t easy for the pair.

But that doesn’t stop a sweet relationship developing and cementing between the two, while the reader cannot help but sense impending doom, you end up really liking them as a couple and rooting for them — like Jessie and Celine strolling around Vienna for a few hours. Only Nate and Jen are driving around England with (literal and figurative) blood on their hands and a price on their heads. I guess it’s Richard Linklater by way of Chad Stahelski.

I’m not giving anything away, by the way, saying that about sensing impending doom. If you haven’t picked up a sense of impending doom on Page One you aren’t paying attention to Gadsby. How he manages to make you feel that while telling this sweet story, and making you feel how dangerous Crawford is…it’s a great trick.

This is a fast-moving book, and the pages just melt away (not unlike Jen’s plan). It’ll draw you in and keep you riveted through all the twists and turns. And each time you start to think you know what’s going to happen, Gadsby will tell you that you’re wrong. And then he’ll throw a curveball at you. Yes, there’s the looming sense of doom, but there’s a hope shining throughout all that like that green light at the end of the East Egg dock. It won’t be until the very end until you know what to pay attention to — the threat or the hope. Gadsby does yeoman’s work there.

This is a treat folks, you’d do well to indulge.

—–

4 Stars

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