Reviewed by Gill Davies
This is the first novel by Rod Reynolds, a British author who is working comfortably within the conventions and settings of American crime fiction. I was gripped by it from the start and liked its evocation of time and place. The novel is set in 1946, in the border town of Texarkana (and loosely based on real murders that took place there) and Reynolds creates an atmospheric thriller using the ambiguities of this border world. His protagonist is a journalist, a detective-surrogate, exiled by his boss from New York to this end of the world place, to write about a series of unsolved brutal crimes. Young couples have been savagely murdered while courting at a favourite local spot. There is a female survivor who has apparently identified her assailant as black but she becomes victim to the machinations and political games being played by police and other local figures. When the main character and narrator, Charlie Yates, becomes involved with the girl’s sister (inevitably beautiful and dangerous!) he is bound to follow the story wherever it leads.
The town and its inhabitants are darkly mysterious and Charlie becomes more and more embroiled in their lives and secrets. As an outsider, he is able to ask questions that no-one else can, yet he is also excluded from understanding some of the connections that will ultimately unravel the mystery. There are lies, corruption, racism, dubious business deals, local police deception and thuggery, and hints of conspiracy and cover-up that take Charlie down dark and dangerous paths. Simultaneously we learn more about Charlie’s past and the reasons for his problems in New York. He makes errors of judgement and is sometimes out of control; he struggles with his relationships with his peers and workmates and with his (soon to be ex-) wife. These characteristics of the hard-boiled private eye work very well grafted on to the occupation of investigative journalist with nothing to lose. As he gets deeper into this dangerous world, our sympathies remain with him. He is a Chandleresque figure, (“down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean” etc.) – and the plotting is careful and tightly controlled.
The publishers – as is often the case now – are promoting this novel to consumers of crime fiction as a product with links to other products: “a compelling and pacy thriller that … will appeal to fans of R J Ellroy, Tom Franklin, Daniel Woodrell and True Detective.” It does draw on some of the same sources as these American writers. My only reservation about the novel is that it sometimes feels as though it was created as a careful intervention in the market. It nods to both its generic predecessors and its contemporary equivalents. Is it significant that Reynolds has recently completed a creative writing course in crime fiction and that his novel was in part the product of it? It’s not pastiche, by any means, but I don’t feel that Reynolds has yet developed a wholly original voice. He does know the genre, though, and he does it very well indeed. I can recommend this novel and expect that his next one may be even better.