First published back in June of 2019, British author Jack Bantry and US author Robert Essig’s novella ‘Ain’t Worth A Shit’ delivered a story of hard-hitting organised crime, focussing on the abhorrent vileness of human trafficking and forced prostitution.

DLS Synopsis:
Isabella Kolakowski had left Poland for the UK in search of a better life.  She now worked night shifts, stacking shelves at a local supermarket.  It was still better than she had in Krakow.  This country offered opportunities.  Freedom.  Security…or so she thought.

Issy was almost home after another long night shift when she noticed movement lurking in the shadows.  Alone and concerned for her safety, the young Polish girl sprints the short distance to the house she shares with her boyfriend, falling through the front door and into the quiet stillness of their hallway.

However, home was not the sanctuary it appeared to be.  In the gloom of the living room, Issy can see her boyfriend, Rodney, standing there with an expression of resigned terror etched across his face.  In one fluid motion, a man wearing a black leather jacket steps out from behind Rodney.  Moments later another man walks in through the backdoor.  Issy has no idea who the men are, but she instinctively knows she’s in danger.

The men speak with Polish accents.  They’re here for her and have one single objective.  Take the girl.  They can leave no witnesses.  First Rodney is killed, then Issy is bundled into a black van and taken away by the two Polish men.  Taken to a grubby hotel in the heart of London to be locked away in a dingy room and forced to work as a sex slave.  To be degraded, imprisoned and treated like a piece of meat.

Meanwhile, twenty-eight-year-old Mark has a big fucking problem.  He’d arranged to meet with his supplier for another batch of skunk to sell on.  However, upon arriving at the agreed meeting spot, Mark realises his wallet’s been stolen along the way.  The big bundle of cash he owed his supplier is gone.

All of a sudden Mark finds himself forced into a very bad situation.  He’d now in debt with some ruthless gangsters, who he’s beginning to suspect could be the Polish Mafia.  Mark realises he has no choice but to do what they say.  In the blink of an eye he’s been dragged into a world of organised crime.  And there seems no escape.  The ever-present threat of what they will do to him or his sister, should he refuse to do as they say, forcing his hand.

Issy and Mark are about to learn that behind the hustle and bustle of London’s busy streets, lies a very dangerous criminal underworld.  Organised criminals dealing in drugs, prostitution and human trafficking are operating in the very heart of the city they called home.  Those within the gangs only care about the money.  There’s no consideration for those they exploit.  To them, young women like Issy are just a way for them to make money.  There to be exploited.  To them, other than the money they can harvest from them, these girls ain’t worth shit… 

DLS Review:
Neither Bantry nor Essig are strangers to hard-hitting and utterly uncompromising fiction.  After all, Bantry’s the man behind the Splatterpunk Zine, and Essig has offered up his own fair share of grisly gore-dripping horrors over the last few years.  So it’ll be no real surprise to learn that ‘Ain’t Worth A Shit’ isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill “cops and criminals” crime thriller.  In fact, at times the story hits you with the full force of a sledgehammer to the gut.

In essence what we have is a grisly crime thriller, that could be seen my many to be edging towards horror, due to the no-holds-barred approach the two authors have firmly adopted.  Think Joel Schumacher’s ‘8mm’ (1999) meets Mike Duke’s ‘Ashley’s Tale’ (2015).  It’s gritty and unnervingly real to life.  And that’s where the horror ultimately lies with this tale.  On the news we hear horrific stories of this sort of thing going on under our noses, in our very own towns and cities.  Gangs kidnapping young girls, imprisoning them and forcing them to have sex with men, purely for the financial gain of the abductors.

Bantry and Essig utilise the true-to-life horror of this situation with a powerfully emotive effect.  It’s not so much a case of throwing down the hellish details of the violence and rape in order to shock and appal us, but instead it focuses more on the emotional effect of the situation.  The end result is perhaps far more brutal.  It cuts deep.  Fucking deep.

In the novella we see the true cruelty of mankind’s underbelly fully exposed.  We see how the pursuit of money and organised crime can make people become almost subhuman.  Compassion is a lost concept to them.  Instead, to these criminals, the young women who are abducted are seen as nothing but meat to be used and abused.  It’s beyond chilling.

The novella’s not a long story.  Nevertheless Bantry and Essig manage to cram in a tightly-paced thriller, with more than enough focus on the emotional turmoil of the characters to hammer the solid steel nails of their story home.  The sheer investment you, the reader, have in the plight of the characters of Issy and Mark is testament to the skill of the co-authors.  You feel deeply for the characters.  Your heart aches for them, as the situation they’re forced into worsens at the turn of every page.

In some ways the gritty ‘thriller’ aspect of Mark’s side of the story, and his descent into the world of organised crime, comes as a much needed relief from the far more gut-wrenching abuse suffered by Issy.  That’s not to say Mark’s predicament isn’t fucking grim.  But in comparison to the Issy chapters, it nevertheless gives you a chance to come up for air.  To collect your thoughts and prepare for the next bout of hellishly oppressive degradation.

Perhaps one thing that stands out above all else is how easily the predicament that both Issy and Mark find themselves in came about.  Mark made a couple of bad choices in life, and suddenly things are spiralling out of his control for him.  Issy’s situation is perhaps even harder to swallow, by the simple fact that she was only trying to make a better life for herself.  Nothing more, nothing less.

I should say that this is probably not a tale for everyone.  It’s cold and hard and fucks with your emotions.  But it’s one hell of a read.  It beats you black and blue, dragging you along in a maelstrom or suffering.  But for all its harshness, it’s near-impossible to put down.  The pacing is so tight, the escalating situation so urgent, that it becomes compulsive reading.  You want to keep pushing on, to bridge the hurt and see these two unfortunate characters come out the other side.  And that my friends is the sign of a damn good read.

Admittedly the novella doesn’t deliver the perfect ending.  The last handful of chapters do feel a tad too rushed compared to the rest of the tale.  But this small qualm is honestly not enough to materially detract from what is otherwise one motherfucker of a read.

If you can stomach a truly hard-hitting, gritty crime thriller that’s submerged in vile degradation and emotional suffering, then this is one that you should consider picking up.  But as I said before, it’s not for everyone.  You are warned.

The novella runs for a total of 139 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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