Fourth Estate, £10.99

"Forget about six degrees of separation. Everyone in Ulster was just a person away, sitting on their other side, waiting to lean forward and say hello." This quote, midway through Tyrone-born Nick Laird's debut novel, goes some way to explaining the chances and coincidences on which it is built.

Danny Williams is a lawyer in one of London's top firms. And he hates it. Geordie Wilson is Danny's former school pal who has got his marching orders from their hometown of Ballyglass and turns up on his learned friend's doorstep, in need of a place to crash. Ian McAleece is the loyalist paramilitary who Geordie meets on the boat on the way over. He's coming to London to buy the materials for his big statement, not realising that the petty thief who sat beside him has somehow ended up with the £50,000 which is meant to fund it.

The dust jacket describes 'Utterly Monkey' as a novel about "aspirations, belonging, the epiphanies of daily life and, best of all, getting the girl". It's a caper and a disappointing one. Set over five days, Laird tries to cram too much action in too quickly and then loses momentum far too slowly. Keeping things simpler would've made a better book - the subplot involving Ian doesn't work, Danny's business trip back home with the co-worker he fancies drains energy from the narrative and Laird spends too long on descriptions when he needed to focus more on dialogue.

He also presents the reader with the problem of a central character who's not very interesting and a sidekick who turns out to be the best thing about the book. As the mismatched duo's verbal exchanges show, this should have been a buddy book - minus the bomb plot and the takeover bid of an Ulster water company. And, if that book did have to have a romance, give it a little more time and ditch the sex scene.

Someone once remarked that Elmore Leonard's books didn't have the greatest plots, but you wanted to be in a room with his characters. That only applies to one person here.

Harry Guerin