Book review: Dal Arni by Iwan “Iwcs” Roberts
If, having read Dal y Mellt, you felt as if the gang’s last scheme had fallen into place a little too neatly by its conclusion, worry not! Iwan “Iwcs” Roberts has just the thing for you, in the form of Dal Arni.
Following on from the events of the previous book, Carbo, Antonia, Mici, Les and company soon realise that things didn’t turn out quite as well as appearances would have suggested.
As we begin, we learn that Jiffy has made off with the diamond cash he’d previously picked up from Ishmael, seemingly double crossing the rest of the gang.
To say the air turns blue would be an understatement, with Cidw threatening to skin his former comrade from his feet up and Gronw giving Aldo a very parental “I told you so” lecture about Jiffy not being trustworthy.
This isn’t their only concern, however. The Hustons are on their tails, not just due to the diamond double cross, but there’s also the matter of Mici’s assault of Terrence Huston in the Celtic Pride toilets (with Cidw accepting an element of the blame for taking his eye off the ball.)
Essentially then, the adventure is a two-way game of cat and mouse, the gang trying to track down Jiffy on the one hand, whilst simultaneously attempting to avoid the Hustons and their goons.
And this cat and mouse game takes the reader all over the place. Cardiff, London, Crewe, Connah’s Quay…the miles are certainly clocked up throughout.
Fools and their money
When Cidw enlists the assistance of Harry O’Carrol, an associate he’s worked with many times before, in tracing Jiffy’s bank card and any spending of the diamond cash, he ends up with more than he bargained for, with Harry agreeing to release the cash (& Jiffy once he’s been tracked down) only if Cidw does him a favour in return.
Steal gold bars made from scrap gold that’s been melted down and mixed with Welsh gold to increase the value of the resulting bars from a jeweller in Bangor (once Julian, the shop’s owner, has marked the gold to pass it off as completely authentic Welsh gold). What could possibly go wrong?
There’s plenty going on in addition to the main story here, though everything ties in together naturally. Les for instance, has got himself into some very hot water due to gambling debts.
Thinking he was in the money, before finding out Jiffy had absconded with it, he got a bit carried away at a shall we say less than reputable gambling club. This leads to a falling out with Mici, who gives him the sack. Fools and their money are soon parted, but I did find myself sympathising with Les’ plight.
Mici has marital woes to contend with. He’s been given an ultimatum by his long-suffering wife: it’s either her and the kids, or his “extra-curricular activities” with the gang. This, understandably, makes him reluctant to get involved with anything even remotely dodgy.
To balance out the peril in the story, there are plenty of genuinely laugh out loud moments here. The highlight for me would have to be Gronw’s experiences in Cardiff. To say the poor man is like a fish out of water would be an understatement.
After arriving at the Radisson Blu hotel for the gang’s meeting, he’s initially confused by his room key (thinking that Aldo was passing him his bank card). Upon realising his room’s on the top floor, he asks his son “Is it safe for anyone to be sleeping this high up?”
And as Antonia, Aldo and Cidw are waiting to leave the following day, there’s no sign of Gronw.
He eventually appears, venting his frustrations about the lift “I’m sure I’ve been in that fuck jug longer than I’ve been in my bed. And the little woman talking inside of it makes absolutely no sense and didn’t listen to a word I said!”
I found myself wanting to root for and being frustrated by each of the gang members in turn. Carbo for example, certainly doesn’t make things easy for himself, and I despaired at him during arguments between himself and Mici or Antonia.
I’m sure there are some readers would find the use of English in Dal Arni a bit much, but I’m certainly not one of them. When it is employed, either mixed in with Welsh sentences, or used by non-Welsh speaking characters, it’s not at all out of place.
An example which springs to mind is Antonia wanting Carbo to look at her car following an argument at the Fox and Hound pub, just outside Ludlow, as it won’t start.
Mandy, the landlady, helpfully asks “Have you got any petrol in the tank?” Carbo observes that’s funny, as he’s just asked her the same question in Welsh, “We must be on the same wavelength Mands”.
Antonia starts to lose her patience at this point, explaining to Carbo (again in Welsh) what the problem was. With Mandy once again making it clear she’s none the wiser as to what was said.
Whilst Mandy’s dialogue could easily have been written in Welsh, it wouldn’t have worked as well, in my view.
Dal Arni, as with Dal y Mellt, has been very well written indeed. This is a rollercoaster ride of a novel that you really don’t want to miss.
Judging from the cliff-hanger at the end, a third instalment will be on the way. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens next.
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