What a rich range of characters Elliot Stanton has encountered in his working life. And how well he brings them to life in this book. Pete Dawson, his narrator, is a fifty-year-old who is married to Kathy, with three grown-up children – Melissa, Simon and Leanne – and who has spent nearly all his working life as a pawnbroker in London. At fifty Pete is now part owner of a firm of East London pawnbrokers, jewellers and cheque cashers. The richness of the characters who are Pete’s customers in this book smacks of first-hand experience, as does the wealth of detail about the day-to-day running of the business. Stanton divides his characters into four categories – Normal, Disillusioned, Stubborn, and Funny.
We encounter characters like the various members of the Kowalski family, with their varying characteristics summed up by his narrator’s nicknames, such as The Appeaser, The Monobrow, or The Brave. Then there’s long-time regular customers Mavis Davis and her husband Bob, real old-fashioned Cockneys, who even invite Pete and Kathy to their home for an “evening soiree”, and Pete’s colleagues – business partner Phil, and Sabrina who works in the shop for them.
Sabrina is a young woman, who has graduated from working as the shop’s Saturday girl to being a regular employee. She has a long-term boyfriend, Daz, with whom she has endless problems and who sounds like a bit of a love-rat. I found the relationship between Pete and Sabrina not really credible and often too dominant in the book. I wanted to hear far more about the customers and their lives and problems. There were so many of them whom I wanted to know more about, whether it was the Kowalskis, the woman who keeps turning up wanting Pete to have dinner with her, or ex-Councillor Bridger with his array of musical instruments which he claims have played a major role in pop history (eg. the synthesizer played by Gary Numan, or the electric guitar played by Don Henley on Hotel California). Mrs Mullaly brings in fiery hot curries; Joy Ramsey has a different reason for her delay each time she calls. Numerous customers struggle with the complexities of basic maths in making payments, or have their hopes dashed to realise that the jewellery they believed to be gold is fake, or to find that Pete doesn’t believe that their Rolex is a genuine one and in either case the pawn value, if there is one, is pence. I’d have loved to know more about these people and their lives, and what brought them to this East London pawnbrokers.
Mr Stanton has some great ideas here and a wealth of characters and stories to tell – it’s a shame that he’s not always made the best of them. If he had concentrated on the other characters and left aside some of the detail with the narrator’s life and obsessions, such as with the upcoming Olympics, or his potential relationship with Sabrina, this could have been a really fascinating book, one telling the reader about a life of which most of us know nothing and would like to learn much. The other problem I had with what was in so many ways an engaging book was my annoyance with the overall lack of quality of proofreading throughout it. So many times I found there were simple mistakes with areas like use of punctuation or with layout, as well as some really basic errors that could and should easily have been corrected (e.g. “I slipped back out the shop to return at returned to work”).
Rating: 3 stars