Monday, February 01, 2016
Jake Hinkson: Pictures From Life's Other Side
Hinkson's short fiction (I've yet to read his novels) takes place in a world in which religion invariably rubs up against reality, with a thin line separating good and evil, lawfulness and lawlessness. Which means the stories are firmly in the tradition of noir, in which a black and white manichaeism is replaced by the relativity suggested in the book's title. Of course, noir aficionados will know about that deepening shade, deployed adeptly by the best noir writers, directors and cinematographers. Consequently, I was hooked from the first story, in which a burnt-out police officer gets increasingly drunk behind a gas station before shooting someone who's attempting to rob the place. It reads like it could have jumped out of a Drive By Truckers songbook. These stories about killer cops but psychos, religious obsessives, lowlifes, abusive relationships and the already-wounded also contain some great lines, like the opening sentence of The Big Sister, about a stripper who helps her young sibling who has just killed a man: "I was shaking my tits at the Friday night crowd when I saw my kid sister walk through the back door of The Fur Trap." Like a cross between Harry Crews and James M. Cain, with an attitude summed up in a line from another story, Cold City, about a cop in debt to a local bad-news loan shark: "If God wanted us to have moral clarity he wouldn't have created us blind and stupid."
Of the two books, I suppose I marginally prefer The Deepening Shade. After all, credit to anyone who can manage the tricky terrain of the noir short story. Not that such stories don't proliferate on the internet these days; it's just that so few live up to the tradition of which they claim to be a part. Finally, it's worth mentioning that both The Deepening Shade and The Blind Alley are published by small presses: the former by All Due Respect, the latter by Broken River Books. It's publishers like these who appear to be producing some of the most interesting crime fiction around. I wonder if that could have anything to do with the fact that they operate outside the restrictions and contractual obligations of corporate publishing? My guess is that just might be the case.