The Bothy by Trevor Mark Thomas
Someone had warned Tom to stay away from Stephanie’s funeral.
A fantastic opening line! I was hooked by this thriller right from the start.
I could see it on the big screen in my mind all the way through too. Think of any British gangster film from recent years of the Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels ilk, add Ray Winstone, maybe even Jason Statham instead of the late Brian Glover, then mix in some vintage feel from Get Carter, get Magnus Mills to write the screenplay in the mode of his own debut The Restraint of Beasts with some of the menace and regret from Iain Banks’ Stonemouth, and get Tarantino to direct in a wintery Yorkshire with all the claustrophobia of The Hateful Eight.
OK – I’d cut the pitch down to simply ‘Tarantino in Yorkshire’! (And, before anyone who knows this novel corrects me – despite the actual location of this novel being just inside Lancashire, it doesn’t have quite the same ring, and as Gary explains on page 4, Frank had moved the ‘Welcome to Lancashire’ signs so he could say his pub was in Yorkshire!)
Tom has to get out of town. His girlfriend Stephanie died in a car accident, and her parents believe he killed her. They’ve put a price on his head. So Gary arranges for Tom to disappear up to
Yorkshire the Lancashire dales, where Frank who owns an isolated pub called The Bothy would look after him. Gary drops him at the pub and heads straight off back to Leeds. Going inside, Tom has to endure the ‘you’re not from round these here parts’ taunts from the three men in the seedy pub, while they all wait for Frank. Tom discovers there’s no mobile phone signal. Tom is eventually sent through.
He entered a murky room. It looked more like a workshop than an office. There was a heavy smell of sweat and alcohol. … A middle-aged man sat at a plastic table. He had a bottle of whisky in front of him and held a bag of frozen peas over his right eye. His nose was bulbous and mottled. He wore brown corduroy trousers held up by braces the colour of fresh lemons.
Frank agrees to help and Tom must muck-in with his band of men – Tucker, Braudy and Ken, the three in the pub. He can live in the caravan in the yard. A couple of days later, there’s a job for them to do after breakfast, digging holes – Braudy and Tucker can’t decide whether it was three holes or four – anyway they’re to be six feet long, three feet wide and four feet deep. They jokingly, but seriously, tell Tom to put on two pairs of underpants, something he regrets not doing after hours out in the cold later. Holes dug, they return to the pub. Later Wayne and his men arrive.
‘Thought there were going to be five holes for us.’
From this point on it’s clear that there’s a professional rivalry between Frank and Wayne – and this coupled with various of the men finding out about the price on Tom’s head drives the action – that and Cora. It’s not clear why Cora is staying at the Bothy, but Frank is protective of her, especially when the predatory Wayne is around. She and Tom strike up a friendship, another thing that makes Frank’s men more jealous of him. As the days go by and the weather worsens, the atmosphere continues to get more intense and claustrophobic. Something is going to happen…
This is a violent novel, menacing too, but it is full of dark humour. It so reminded me of Magnus Mill’s first two novels in particular – in The Restraint of Beasts (which I must re-read) two men who dig holes for fences get caught between rival gangs with dire consequences, and in the second, All Quiet on the Orient Express a biker stays on to work on a farm in the Lakes at the end of the tourist season living in a caravan. Where Mills’s comedy is quietly subversive for the most part, Thomas’s is more overt and slapstick at times. Thomas also lets his men just hang around the whole time, with mad moments of activity, rather than having jobs as most of Mills’s characters do. They also share the single female character, but Cora, whom I rather liked, is no temptress, she’s just biding her time.
Thomas has absolutely nailed the sticky floor of the pub, the muddy yard and its ever-present smell of sewage, not forgetting the temperamental boiler. You can imagine the dankness of the inside of The Bothy and the tangle of untidy rooms in need of redecoration stretching out behind the bar – yet with a roaring fire going, bacon sizzling in the frying pan, even letting the sun shine for a bit, and you do get an illusion of being in ‘God’s country’, (well just about!). I also loved that the lack of mobile signal means that communications are via a proper telephone – it added to the old-fashioned gangster feel and there’s more menace in having to pick up the ringing phone without knowing who’s at the other end.
Thomas also plays on the Yorkshire v Lancashire divide too. He is from Manchester; Frank wishes he was from Yorkshire; Wayne is a Yorkshireman; Tom comes from Leeds. Stephanie was from a Lancashire family!
As you can tell, I loved this novel – and it’s a debut. I can’t wait to read whatever Trevor Mark Thomas writes next. (10/10)
Source: Review copy from the publisher – thank you.
Trevor Mark Thomas, The Bothy (Salt, Jan 2019) Paperback, 246 pages.