Something a little different for this week's review, as I delve into some murky noir fiction! Thanks to Lori at TNBBC Publicity for furnishing me with a review copy in exchange for this fair and unbiased review.
From the press release:
The Virgin Mother’s image — a moldy shadow with patches of holy light — has appeared under the Triple Underpass right next to the Grassy Knoll. The image of the Virgin Mother — so close to the site where JFK was assassinated — brings believers to pay their respects and to ponder its meaning. But Hal Scott has more to worry about than the Virgin Mother.
Recovering alcoholic, lover of secrets, and quickly approaching middle-age, Scott discovered his best friend dead in his downtown Dallas apartment. And all fingers point to Scott as the murderer. There is a conspiracy underway, and it’s tied to a gubernatorial campaign, illicit photographs, and a video that will undermine the election. And more than likely get Hal Scott killed.
The only one Scott can turn to is Lemon — the self-proclaimed bastard son of Lee Harvey Oswald. Lemon’s mother owns Conspiracy Books, just blocks away from the old Texas School Book Depository, and she used to dance at the Carousel Club, owned by the notorious Jack Ruby. The FBI, the CIA, and the John Birch Society all want what Lemon has discovered in her mouldering attic. What he found is bigger than them all, and there will be a price to pay for its exposure.
Earning the rather unfriendly nickname of “The City of Hate” in the wake of John K. Kennedy’s assassination, Dallas seems as ideal a setting as any for a sleazy noir tale. The echoes of that single, shocking event still reverberate around its streets, and conspiracy theories and suspicions run rife. Sleazy noir is exactly what we get in City of Hate, the debut novel from Timothy S. Miller, himself a resident of Dallas. The novel has all the hallmarks of hardboiled noir, with alcoholics, down and outs, femme fatales and plots within plots, all narrated by a man who has clearly been put through life’s wringer already. If you’re looking for a cheerful pick-me-up, this might not be the book for you, but if you like your fiction grittier than a shovelful of dirt thrown over a still warm corpse, this will be right up your alley.
Dallas, which looks more cyberpunk than I expected to be honest
I often find myself in the latter camp, enjoying the likes of Bukowski, Palahniuk, McCarthy and even Chandler between the science fiction and fantasy that usually feature on this blog, so I felt on familiar ground with City of Hate’s cast of oddballs and misfits. There’s main character Hal of course, a bank teller with a past he’d rather forget, a present that he’s struggling to live through and a future that doesn’t seem like much to look forward to. But alongside him we have Lemon Pickens, the junkie son of a conspiracy peddling bookshop owner and all-round bad apple. He’s accused at the beginning of the novel of exposing himself to a group of Girl Scouts in the park, which should give you some indication of the kind of insalubrious behaviour that can be expected from him throughout. As well as Lemon, we meet the kind of colourful characters you would steer well clear of on a night out - Crazy Larry, for example, a legless veteran who sits outside the Sixth Floor Museum (which houses an exhibit on the supposed truth of the Kennedy assassination) screaming at the visitors as they leave, before drinking himself into a stupor. There’s also a collection of tragic, hope-deprived figures Miller peoples the streets and bars of Dallas with - former exotic dancers, alcoholics, prostitutes and so on.
If this all sounds a little too bleak, rest assured, it’s not. Miller’s dialogue is as crisp as a new dollar bill (which in this novel would doubtless be tucked into a stripper’s g-string), zipping and cracking along at pace and eliciting plenty of wry smiles. The aforementioned colourful characters are all given their time in the sun too, with many of them given bleak or moving little backstories that serve to both expand upon the plot by explaining their relevance within it, and to add more murky shades of grey to this tale of a city’s seedy underbelly. This vignette style of storytelling is carried on throughout the main narrative too, with Hal looking to extricate himself from the mess he’s in through various misadventures as well as helping Lemon with his conspiracy MacGuffin, all whilst trying to live his everyday life of work, AA meetings and romance. Whilst it might seem at times like there are several disparate threads which couldn’t possibly converge, the way Miller ties things together as the story reaches its conclusion is extremely satisfying.
City of Hate is much more fun than its name would perhaps imply, with supporting characters who feel like they could easily have an entire novel to themselves, a compelling plot and a style so noir you can almost smell the cigarette smoke. A highly entertaining read, that has made me wonder why I don’t read more of this kind of thing.
City of Hate is published by Goliad Media Press, and releases on the 1st of June. They’re a brand-new small press, and one I will be keeping an eye on for sure, based on my time with this book. You can pre-order City of Hate here.
Currently reading: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, Meg Elison
Currently listening: Phylogenesis, Abysmal Dawn
Dallas photo by Gabriel Tovar on Unsplash
Ollie - BA English and Creative Writing, MA Publishing.