Review: University of Life by Daley James Francis

★★★★★ University of Life by Daley James Francis

It’s the summer of ’97: Prime Minister Tony Blair’s first year of office, Princess Diana’s unbeknownst final weeks, the year the Backstreet Boys were “back, alright.” When London crime boss Eddie Daniels unexpectedly loses his courier on the job during a car crash, it becomes his prerogative to recover the suitcase of cocaine about to be taken with him. Complicating matters is Chloe Holmes, university student and – all of a sudden – one of the most wanted people in the south of England as she flees the site of the accident after particularly egregious instance of someone taking the wrong suitcase.

With Eddie’s goons hot on her trail, Chloe turns to her mother, who in turn calls on her ex-husband cop turned muscle-for-hire, and also enlists the help of Chloe’s own ex, Joe, a fresh-faced private investigator. Both men see the opportunity to bring themselves up a little in the eyes of their former flames, starting a race against the clock to find Chloe before a cocaine-fueled murderer can get there first through every twist and turn yet to come.

A wry black comedy drawing from British crime fiction and media, University of Life is a punchy and often-times very funny novel with a colorful cast ranging from the loveable to love-to-hate-able. It’s the kind of book where even two cocaine smugglers become a memorable pair as one ponders about his co-worker’s bad professional habits and muses that he “assumed Scarface was an instruction booklet, not a work of fiction.” This kind of sharp writing makes Francis’s writing pop page after page.

There’s a definite “Snatch”-like London gangster feel mingling with the quirks of the British Midlands, yet with only the odd reference that might fly over the head of a non-Brit. There’s never a detail that context cannot provide for, thankfully. Francis definitely makes full use of the UK setting without alienating less locale-familiar readers. After all, Francis is an proud Leicestershire-based author and he certainly isn’t afraid to write what he knows, which is unquestionably to the book’s benefit. The result is a memorable, if dark, experience that places you square in the middle of disaster.

Daley James Francis has proven to be a consistently witty and thoroughly unique writer, penning other such antic-based Brit-comedies as Walking Up A Slide and Somerflip, and University of Life is no different. His work has spanned multiple genres whilst retaining a quintessential repartee that makes easy, and certainly flattering, comparison to the Nick Frost/Simon Pegg “Cornetto Trilogy” of films. In particular, “Hot Fuzz” jumps to mind as a potential relative of this book’s sense of humor, and fans of the film will have a good laugh with this one.

It’s hard to recommend Daley enough – an author who’s adept at blending laugh-out-loud black comedy with a bit of something all his own in each of the genres he fondly visits. University of Life is one of Daley’s best so far and stands as a prime example of what makes him one of the most unique indie authors writing today.

Content warning for themes of violence, crime, and drug use.

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University of Life