Well, this was unexpected… Double Kiss by snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan may well be one of the best commercial crime novels I’ve read this year! It is original, page turning with well developed characters and a good sense of setting, and is also written with more nuance than you might expect.
It’s 1996 and Frankie James is a young man in his twenties who owns a snooker club (obvs) in the heart of Soho. His parents are absent – Dad’s in prison and mother fled many years before – so Frankie has been left to manage himself, the club, and to keep an eye on his younger brother who is always in and out of trouble. And that’s hard to do when you live and work in Soho, though Frankie does his best to keep the gangsters around him at arm’s distance, as well as the corrupt police. But sometimes that isn’t always possible…
In Framed, the previous book where we first introduced to Frankie and this world, Frankie had to cut a deal with big local gangsters to keep his brother from prison, and in Double Kiss, the gangsters are calling in that favour. One of Frankie’s old school friends, Tanya, happens to the goddaughter of one of Soho’s biggest mobsters and she has gone missing in Ibiza. That gangster wants Frankie to go and find her and bring her back.
But what seems a relatively safe, if complicated, request, turns out to be anything but when Frankie finds himself caught up in intergang warfare and huge criminal undertakings. Suddenly, he is a young man out of his league and in a whole lot of trouble…
I read Framed last year when it was published, and I did find it quite frustrating – so much potential in a crime book loosely set on Ronnie O’Sullivan’s life and personality (there’s plenty of material in both!) and I was excited for a crime novel set in Soho in the Nineties, an extraordinary microcosm in the middle of London with its own rules and characters, which I felt hadn’t been properly explored as a setting before – but there were issues in that one. Well, one book on and so many of those issues have fallen away.
Frankie James is now a far more complicated character. His jack-the-lad exterior has been partnered with a heart that falls in love too easily and, here, his weakness for drinks and drugs has a clear impact on the book’s plot and his ability to execute what he is required to do. The impact of the absence of his parents is also more noted.
And there are improvements elsewhere too. The gangsters of Soho are fewer but far more well-defined. There’s real life in these characters (and I have a terrible sense they may well be based on men Ronnie has met before!) but they are believable. There’s a big plus in the addition of gay characters where their sexuality is just a given and not a plot point, and the various love interests in the book are more than just pretty faces and, at times, there’s an interesting switch in power play between themselves and Frankie.
So, lots to recommend about here. Yes, I know Ronnie was assisted with the writing of this book by Emlyn Rees but, nevertheless, this is an impressive achievement, especially considering this is a celebrity-penned novel.
Double Kiss is the second book in the trilogy, Soho Nights, so, ideally, you will have read Framed before reading this. However, it is possible to read this as a stand-alone story. There are long-running plots that clearly run across the two (soon to be three) books around the incarceration of Frankie James’s dad and his absent mother but these are pretty easy to pick up if you read Double Kiss first.
But, whichever way you cut it, Double Kiss is one of the finest commercial crime novels this year. And who would have expected that?! Impressive.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Macmillan (16 Nov. 2017)