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The Bullet Trick

The Bullet Trick

Author:Louise Welsh
Release Date:2006

By Bret McCabe | Posted 10/25/2006

Stereotypically seedy British crime stories are often more fun than their muscle-and-moll American counterparts, if only for the scenery change. Dodgy men with crooked noses speak in almost impenetrable accents. Lean but busty women spend most of their time getting into and out of the tiniest of glittery outfits, while bottles and fags pass through their fingers on their way to soon-to-be-smeared lipsticked lips. The familiar mean streets of New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Miami are traded for gray London neighborhoods or-even better-even grayer Scottish climes. Honor among thieves is meted out in cruel, borderline medieval punishments on an island where coppers have most of the guns. And the poor mark in the middle isn't some renegade cop or existentially weary private eye, but rather some traditionalist career detective or unfortunate average bloke who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Louise Welsh's unlucky bloke isn't so average in The Bullet Trick, her third novel, but what makes him extraordinary also makes him a cleverly unordinary contemporary crime narrator. Glasgwegian William Wilson is a magician, a "conjurer" as he calls himself-a rather inconsistently employed one but still a man skilled in reading an audience and theatrically deceiving them nonetheless. He makes his living, if it can be called such, entertaining boozehounds on some of the more desultory stages across London, such that when his agent offers him a gig warming up a roomful of tipplers before a pair of dancing girls disrobe for a police officer's retirement fete, William is in no financial position to say no. And what happens there panics him into run-and-hide survival mode.

Welsh doles out her story with the distractions and false leads of a seasoned illusionist herself. She opens Trick with a shitless-scared William fleeing Berlin for Glasgow, where he hopes to hide away and, with any luck, possibly die of self-neglect and self-abuse, a sentence he assigns himself after committing a heinous crime in Berlin. Welsh then proceeds to crosscut between William's interlocking internal narratives: what went down at the ill-fated London nightclub that first spurned him to seek safety at an underground erotic cabaret in Berlin, and what happened once he established his show-stopping act there, the titular illusion, with his gamine, game assistant Sylvie, whose "uncle" Dix so admires William's conjuring abilities that he entices the young man into some private performances where they can make some serious money.

All of The Bullet Trick is drenched in a unsavory smell of day-old drinks, overburdened ashtrays, and spending a third consecutive day in the same suit. Welsh's prose reeks with the same stillborn aroma that you suspected emanated off Guy Ritchie's characters in Snatch-which is a clue to the trick she works here. Welsh slyly lets William treat his sleight of hand like a con man, and she slowly turns his nightmarish adventure into a vicious long con. And though you start to see where it's going before all the tells are disclosed, it doesn't subtract from the thoroughly sinister thrills of this deliciously unpleasant read.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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