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Layer Cakeby J. J. Connolly
Synopses & Reviews
Adapted and directed by Matthew Vaughn (producer of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) as a feature film to be released in May 2005, Layer Cake is a "funny, hectic, hard-hitting debut novel, [a] sheer, unstoppable joy to read from the first page to the last" (Literary Review).
Our narrator's too smart to tell you his name ("if I [did], you'd be as clever as me"), but he's not afraid to tell you everything else about the "layer cake" — London's intricately arranged constellation of underworld fiefdoms. He's a drug dealer who's planning to retire on his thirtieth birthday — after one last great score — to a life as "a gentleman of leisure." Only problem is his boss, the crime kingpin "don" Jimmy Price, has other plans. He can walk away from the life for good only if he can track down a runaway daughter for Jimmy's old friend.
Complicating matters are two million top-grade Ecstasy tablets that were robbed from a factory in Amsterdam by a renegade outfit in Jimmy's employ who are now looking for someone to offload the ill-gotten loot. With an angry mob of German neo-Nazis in hot pursuit, and all crosses and double-crosses leading back to Jimmy, our narrator finds he may have to negotiate a new exit strategy to finally get his slice of the cake.
With a rich supporting cast of dozens of characters, from Tommy Garret, aka Billy Bogus, a grifter with an uncanny gift for impersonation, to Sir Alex, chief chemical taster and a "boy who knows his drugs," Layer Cake is a gripping, linguistically inventive thriller, a cross between Irvine Welsh and Dennis Lehane that keeps you turning the pages until the very end.
"[A] cool and sinuous crime story, smothered in street jargon and suffused with an abiding love of all that's illegal....Connolly knows how to spin a good yarn....A walloping debut that could well presage a wave of Brit crime lit heading for these shores." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] flawless, lightning-swift pulp crime drama — rich in the language of the British underworld....[A] brilliantly crafted, linguistically dense, European wise-guy tale..." Publishers Weekly
"[A] stunningly original debut....Connolly's slice of low life is utterly mesmerizing. A two-thumbs-up effort by a talented British newcomer." Booklist
"For those who suspect that the British mob scene is all a matter of splendid talk...additional evidence is supplied by Connolly's dark, quirky first novel..." Library Journal
"Layer Cake is a storming piece of work: funny and serious by turns with an abiding sense of conviction...the novel has a grasp of street argot unparalleled since Kinky Friedman first sashayed out of his front door." The Guardian (UK)
"If the brilliantly written and intriguing Layer Cake is anything to go by, [Connolly] will soon be a name to whet the appetites of readers and critics alike." The Times (London)
"Once I'd read a few pages I was hooked....Connolly's style is fast and funny and just frightening enough to make you sit up all night finishing the book. Layer Cake could easily emulate [The Sopranos]'s success if made into a television series." Independent on Sunday
"Connolly displays the same infectious relish for underworld argot as Elizabethan writers fascinated by rogues' cant, and his ostensibly artless plotting is as rich in double and triple crosses as a spy thriller." The Sunday Times (London)
"An immensely entertaining read." The Spectator (UK)
Layer Cake, starring Daniel Craig, Michael Gambon, and Colm Meaney, will be released in May 2005 by Sony Pictures.
A suave young drug dealer is assigned the task of finding a missing rich girl in this noir-ish crime drama. As he searches for her through London's many-layered underworld, he finds his jadedness transforming itself into an unexpected emotional investment.
Our narrators too smart to tell you his name (if I [did], youd be as clever as me”), but hes not afraid to tell you everything else about the layer cake”—Londons intricately arranged constellation of underworld fiefdoms. The worst thing about drug dealing—according to our unnamed narrator—whether you're a classy top dealer trading millions or a down-and-out street pusher, is that you have to relate to a lot of total idiots - loudmouths and tough-guy wannabes who aren't afraid to "get nicked by old bill and thrown in the boob" (arrested by police and jailed). Our narrator is a smoothly diplomatic 29-year-old cocaine dealer who has earned a respected place among England's Mafia elite. Speaking in a language rich with drug jargon, vulgarities, British slang, and Cockneyisms, he manages high-level trafficking with a tough old veteran partner, Mister Mortimer, a man who gave the narrator his start in the business, and who has seen his share of prison (five and a half year term) and deadly fights (he owns a porn store, and loves to set up guys looking for child porn by directing them to come back at a special time, then beating the living daylights out of them when they return). Our narrators goal is to retire at 30 and spend his remaining years far from the danger and double-dealing of London's crime gangs. But like most high rollers, he finds it hard to walk away from "just one more" deal.
Morty rings up our narrator one early Saturday morning with an invitation to an exclusive members only restaurant far off in the English countryside. Theyre off for a spot of luncheon” with the Don, Jimmy Price. Jimmy is a legend, a crime boss whos been in the business for years by hiring the best lawyers and keeping a low-key profile. This is a man who is always gets what he wants, and is not used to people refusing him favors. Which is exactly the spot our narrator soon finds himself in when over lunch, Jimmy hands down a tough assignment: find Charlotte Ryder, the missing rich princess daughter of Jimmy's old pal Edward, a powerful construction business player and gossip papers socialite. Its a hard deal to refuse, but Jimmy can spot the edge on our narrator and makes him a deal if you find Charlotte, you can leave the life for good.
Our narrator sets out to find Billy Bogus, a grifter with a gift for mimicry and ingratiating himself into any area of society he wants. Bank and credit card fraud is his trade, with a healthy dollop of hustling young women out of their trust funds for good measure. On his way to meet Bogus, he runs into a small time punk named Sid in a local nightclub who runs with a band of thugs called the Yahoos.” With him is a stunning woman, a real love-a-player type” named Tammy. Sid tells our narrator a bloody story about a friend of his named The Duke” who recently got ambushed by a state of the art crew armed with laser sighted Uzis. Our narrator wont figure out the significance of this story until later as hes too busy checking out Tammy, who flirtatiously gives him her number while Sid is distracted.
Our narrator reports to Jimmys right hand man, Gene, that hes on the case, but Gene has other business. Turns out that the Yahoos have two million pounds' worth of Grade A ecstasy to sell, and Gene wants our narrator to handle the deal. Its an irresistible deal, just the right amount of money to top off his retirement fund. He sets up a meeting with him, Mort, and the Yahoos kingpins, Big Frankie and JD while finally catching up with Billy Bogus, who agrees to help find our narrator Charlotte by tracking down Charlottes boyfriend Kinky—for a price, of course.
Big Frankie and JD keep quiet about where theyve gotten the tablets, but the gear” is top quality, confirmed by none other than Sir Alex (chief chemical taster”). Things are looking up when Mort sets up his gang to meet up with a crew, headed by a man named Trevor, up in Northern England who he thinks will be perfect to unload the goods on. Theres only one problem they dont want the goods. This crew informs our narrator that an Ecstasy factory has been hijacked—most likely by the Yahoos—and now a brutal neo-Nazi sect wants those pills back. Theyve already hit up a house that belongs to the Duke”, and here is where Sids story from the club all makes sense.
Our narrator drives back to London with Mort in tow and gets a call from Bogus, who tells him hes found Kinky. Dead. In a London housing project. It looks like a typical drug overdose, but a young kid drug dealer who helped Bogus find Kinky says he was murdered.
Meanwhile, our narrator sets up a rendezvous with Tammy in a hotel room. As he steps out of the shower, two toughs ambush him, who roll him up in a carpet, and abduct him in a long box. The toughs take him to a construction site to meet with their boss, Eddie Ryder, Charlottes father. Eddie tells our narrator that Jimmy Price has pulled a fast one on him his daughters isnt missinnnnnng. Whats worse, Jimmys made a deal with some renegade Chechens that have swindled him to the tune of thirteen million pounds. To pull himself out of the hole, he set up the narrator to find Eddies daughter, then hold her for ransom. The double cross, though, turns into a triple cross when Eddie plays our narrator a tape that reveals Jimmy Price is an informer for the police and has set up a sting for our narrator where he plans to send him to jail for long time, and make off with the narrators retirement fund.
Finding himself undercut, double-crossed, hung out to dry, and struggling to survive, our narrators survival instincts kick in. He changes from a turn-the-other-cheek diplomat to a revenge-charged hit man overnight, starting by killing Jimmy Price. Next, he agrees to sell the ecstasy tablets to Ryder, who plans to unload them to the Yakuza in Japan, which will put a nice chunk of change in our narrators pocket. Just before he leaves, our narrator mentions a bit of dirt that Jimmy gave him in passing about Eddie, insuring that Eddie wont kill our narrator—just in case he gets any funny ideas about doing so.
Suddenly, all of the narrators problems looked solved. Jimmys dead, and those two million tabs of ecstasy are headed to Japan. Then, Jimmys right hand man Gene asks for a meeting with Mort and our narrator. Gene accuses our narrator of killing Jimmy and threatens to kill him unless he confesses. Our narrator plays the tape Ryder gave him for Gene and Morty, revealing Jimmys double-dealings with the police. Gene lets our narrator go and agrees never to discuss the crime again.
All that remains is the little matter of two million tabs of ecstasy. In a flourish of double and triple crosses, our narrators deal to exchange the tabs for cash at Heathrow Airport falls apart, but ends up with the tabs in Amsterdam. As he prepares to dash off to Amsterdam to collect the loot, he decides to give Tammy a call before he leaves. Unfortunately, Tammys jealous boyfriend Sidney tailed her, and shot the narrator three times, including twice in the head. The narrator lived, recovered in the hospital, and is ordered into retirement and exile by the cops. He rings Tammy to offer her one more chance to meet, but she tells him girls like dangerous guys but youre seriously fuckin life threatening. How many girls do you know end up covered in blood, chief prosecution witness in an attempted murder trial on their first date?” She wishes our narrator well, who has plenty of time to reflect on his life as an ex-pat in Curacao, Brazil. He acknowledges that, in life, you never stop learning, but you never stop forgetting either. He has plenty of time now to ruminate on both, living a life where he can remember why he left the business, but never forget why he cant tell us his name.
Our narrator's too smart to tell you his name ("if I [did], you'd be as clever as me"), but he's not afraid to tell you everything else about the "layer cake"-London's intricately arranged constellation of underworld fiefdoms. He's a drug dealer who's planning to retire on his thirtieth birthday-after one last great score-to a life as "a gentleman of leisure." Only problem is his boss, the crime kingpin "don" Jimmy Price, has other plans. He can walk away from the life for good only if he can track down a runaway daughter for Jimmy's old friend.
Complicating matters are two million top-grade Ecstasy tablets that were robbed from a factory in Amsterdam by a renegade outfit in Jimmy's employ who are now looking for someone to offload the ill-gotten loot. With an angry mob of German neo-Nazis in hot pursuit, and all crosses and double-crosses leading back to Jimmy, our narrator finds he may have to negotiate a new exit strategy.
With a rich supporting cast of dozens of characters, Layer Cake is a gripping, linguistically inventive thriller, a cross between Irvine Welsh and Dennis Lehane that keeps you turning the pages until the very end.
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