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Layer Cake Paperback – August 31, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The worst thing about drug dealing, 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). The unnamed main character of Connolly's flawless, lightning-swift pulp crime drama - rich in the language of the British underworld - is a smoothly diplomatic 29-year-old cocaine dealer who has earned a respected place among England's Mafia elite. He manages high-level trafficking with a tough old veteran partner, Mister Mortimer, a man who has seen his share of prison and deadly fights. Just as the young dealer is eyeing an early retirement from the business, big boss Jimmy Price 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. Complicating matters are two million pounds' worth of Grade A ecstasy, a brutal neo-Nazi sect and a whole series of double crossings. Navigating the many levels of the international underworld, Connolly convincingly chronicles his anti-hero's transformation from a turn-the-other-cheek diplomat to a revenge-charged hit man, setting his sights on anyone who stands in his way. It's the good bad guys against the bad bad guys in this brilliantly crafted, linguistically dense, European wise-guy tale, and readers will find themselves funning for the triumph of lesser evil.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Connolly's stunningly original debut tells the story of a young London gangster who is only 29 but has already made a mark for himself dealing drugs. His 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. His latest opportunity--unloading two million Ecstasy tablets--could be just the thing to top off his retirement fund. The deal's irresistible, but our hero soon finds himself undercut, double-crossed, hung out to dry, and struggling to survive. Connolly brilliantly captures the tawdry flamboyance, peculiar camaraderie, creepy characters, and flashpoint violence of the drug world, a place he makes both repugnant and strangely compelling. Even though the dialogue--a combination of drug jargon, vulgarities, British slang, and Cockneyisms--can be hard to grasp, and the plot is occasionally difficult to track, Connolly's slice of low life is utterly mesmerizing. A two-thumbs-up effort by a talented British newcomer. Emily Melton
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat (August 31, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802141684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802141682
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By D. R. Jeanclerc VINE VOICE on June 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
Written back in 2000, J. J. Connolly's debut novel is receiving a lot of buzz these days because of its recent film adaptation. The movie was directed by Matthew Vaughn, producer of the British underworld capers "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch". There will doubtless be many comparisons drawn between the three works based on similarities in setting and characterization. However, "Layer Cake" ultimately distinguishes itself with a more hard-boiled tone and straightforward characters.

The narrator is a mid-level player in the London drug scene who is looking to retire in one piece before his upcoming 30th birthday. However, the head of his syndicate has other plans for him - a pair of daunting jobs that will earn him his freedom to leave the crime family for good with no bad feelings.

The voice of the unnamed first-person narrator is both the strength of the book and its biggest burden. The narrator's language is slick yet credible, leading to some great dialogue scenes accompanied by well-conceived commentary in his thoughts. Being proper criminals in the London scene, everybody uses Cockney rhyming slang, which takes a while to pick up. There are times that I wished for annotated version with editor's notes - I recommend looking up rhyming slang on the Internet or else checking out the bonus material on fhe "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" DVD. For credibility's sake, there is a mountain of profanity as well, including some "strongly-worded" phrases that are apparently more commonplace in Britain than here in the States (check out the Statistically Improbable Phrases section above to decide whether or not this book is for you).
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Andy Orrock VINE VOICE on September 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book on a whim during a recent trip to London and quickly became immersed in the mesmerizing 'layer cake' world of J.J. Connolly's 29-year-old nameless protagonist. It's neat to see Connolly's writing stretch to 300+ pages while artfully avoiding ever having to drop the character name in there somewhere.

And it's that writing that will keep you glued to 'Layer Cake' from the start. It takes you a bit - especially the US-raised reader - to adjust to the writing style (replete with Cockney rhyming slang - "I don't have a Scooby" you find out is "I don't have a clue"....Scooby = Scooby Doo = clue), but once you do, it's an enthralling ride.

Can't wait to see Matthew Vaughn - producer of Guy Ritchie's first two films - step into the director's chair on this one. Connolly was smart to tab Vaughn as "one of the few people in Britain who could get my movie made." It promises to be a good pairing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte Vale-Allen VINE VOICE on October 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
This first novel gets off to a zippy start and never lets up for a moment; with devious twists and turns, a cast of great (often mercurial, sometimes downright psycho) characters, and a whole lot of detail about the drug scene in England (which may or may not be accurate but certainly comes across with authenticity). Most North Americans, however, will find it difficult to comprehend, as Cockney rhyming slang and slang in general comprise so much of the book. That said, within its own context, there's an almost musical perfection to the cadence of the writing--especially the dialogue. The editing, however, leaves a great deal to be desired. There are far too many errors in maintaining spelling consistency and in simple grammar. But once into Layer Cake, it's one of those books that's all but impossible to put down. Most highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
I first came across Connolly through a short story of his I quite liked in the Britpulp! anthology. With his fist full novel he delivers on that early promise with the best British crime novel I've ever read. While I often enjoy traditional procedurals like John Harvey's Charlie Resnik series, have been known to enjoy Agatha Christie in my younger days, Jake Arnott's The Long Firm and He Kills Coppers, and quite like a lot of the pulpy/noirish stuff put out by The Do Not Press these days-this leaves them all in the dust. The book follows an unnamed narrator over two weeks in 1997 as he plots to end his criminal days and retire on his thirtieth birthday-of course there's just that one last job to take care of...
The thing you notice right away is the language. Nonstop patter, stories, and more slang than you can shake a stick at. The rhythms of the language, both descriptive and dialogue, is perfect and unique. The best comparison I can make is with some of Irvine Welsh's stuff-it's English, but unlike any English you or I speak. And like Welsh's stuff, it can be hard to follow for those not up on the argot (especially cockney rhyming slang), so be warned. But if you like the language, you fall in love with the characters. Finally, some honest to god smart criminals who understand that being low-key is the smoothest path to riches. There must be at least fifty characters in the novel and Connolly gives each one a distinctive voice, even if they're only around for a page.
Once you've absorbed the amazing language and characterization, you'll be swept away by the authenticity. The entire book takes place in the criminal underworlds of London and Liverpool, with details on international drug trafficking, porn shops, killings, and on and on.
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