The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard, adapted by Katie Hims

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The Hot Kid by Elmore Leonard, adapted by Katie Hims. Dir. Sacha Yevtushenko. Perf. Adam Gillen, Luke Norris, Nathan Osgood. BBC Radio 4, 3-24 March 2015. BBCiPlayer to 23 Apr. 2015

Elmore Leonard's 2005 novel is ripe for radio adaptation. Set in the Depression era in Oklahoma and Kansas, it is a fast-moving quest narrative centering on a tussle for supremacy between US Marshal Carl Webster (Luke Norris) and Jack Belmont (Adam Gillen), a small-time crook aspiring to be Public Enemy No.1, with a reputation as notorious as that of Dillinger. Also in the mix is Belmont's moll Louly Brown (Samantha Dakin), who aids and abets Jack depending on the circumstances.

Sacha Yevtushenko's production did not disappoint. Using archival music to set the scene, The Hot Kid moved swiftly from place to place, creating a cutthroat world with a very simple morality: if I miss, you hit. Life was cheap at that time: poverty drove people into desperate measures, and opportunists like Belmont flourished. Being quick on the draw with a six-shooter had distinct advantages. The only quibble I had with this excellent adaptation was that some of the American accents sounded distinctly false; there is nothing more grating on the ear than listening to British actors impersonating their transatlantic cousins with little feeling for the vocal nuances of a dialect. Frequently the Brits object when Americans take on British roles (for example, Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones); perhaps we should express similar criticisms when the positions are reversed.

Katie Hims's adaptation acquired another level of meaning through the presence of Tony Antonelli (Nathan Osgood) and Louly as narrators. A would-be writer of pulp fiction, Antonelli was determined to retell Webster's and Belmont's struggle in popular language, full of clichés and lurid metaphors. The only problem was that the narrative remained stubbornly resistant to such strategies. In Antonelli's narrative vision psychology did not matter; action was everything. By contrasting Antonelli's narrative with that of Louly – who recounted the tale from a highly personal point of view, Hims helped listeners to understand how narrators could only give a partial representation of what was happening. If we really wanted to understand the story, and the motivations of the characters within it, we had to evaluate all the narratives on their own terms, and make a judgement for ourselves. Not only did we have to pay attention to the plot, but we also had to understand the ways in which it was recounted by different narrators. This required considerable attention on our part.

"The Hot Kid" told a familiar tale, highly reminiscent of other Depression-era gangster narratives such as "Bonnie and Clyde," but Hims's subtle adaptation rendered it a memorable aural experience, one that told us a lot about the ways in which people at that time viewed their roles in a fast-changing society.