"Our quest (...) paralleled Lake Charles, a dark mirror held up to our souls, and I didn't care to see its reflection."
I'm ashamed to say that this is my first experience with what I realize is a very good crime writer. Mr Lynskey deserves to be widely read, at least for this one title, his fifth; I can't vouch for his previous work, but I'd be surprised if he 'became' that good all of a sudden. It is clearly the writing of a man who's been developing his skills for many years. I'm glad I finally caught up with the Lynskey train because what a ride this is. I'm even happier just knowing that I've got all of his backlist to go to now.
So okay, what's the fuss about Lake Charles, you say? Well, pretty much everything. Lynskey has created some genuine characters that cut through the page; they seem sculpted with a rusted knife. And they act accordingly. "(...) had spilled Herzog on the turf, manhandled him to his knees, and shoved the .44's stubby muzzle between his teeth clinking on the steel like fragile china." The dialogues are as straight and effective as a close-range bullet from a .44. And there's plenty of both. Here's an example:
"--Will you be my bodyguard? I can afford to pay top rates.
--I'd be honored. My friend Cobb can lend me his .44s.
--Hey, I'm not kidding," she said, miffed at hearing my flippancy.
--All right, simmer down and I'll do it. Are you in any immediate danger?
--No, but what I have in mind is very dangerous."
"--There's more pressing stuff to do.
--First we hide the corpse.
--That dog doesn't hunt, Cobb. I've decided we'll bring in the sheriff.
--Sure, get reamed up the ass. Great idea. You should patent it."
It's 1979, in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains, where dusty backroads, wilderness and a murky lake create a rugged landscape perfect for this noir story. Brendan Fishback is accused of murdering Ashleigh Sizemore, the daughter of a well-known trial attorney, on a night of drinks and drugs and doing the do. He had woken up in the morning with a dead Ashleigh beside him in bed. Although Brendan doesn't remember much he's sure of one thing: he didn't kill Ashleigh. But then, who did? Throughout the novel, in slivers of daydreams where the 'spirit' of Ashleigh talks to him, Brendan pieces together the events of that fateful night. Even if he sometimes thinks he's a bit crazy "The dead never speak to mortals. Whom had I been talking to all this time? If not her, then who? This is nuts."
While awaiting his trial, out on a bail that emptied his bank account, he organizes a little fishing trip to Lake Charles in the hopes of helping his twin sister Edna and her husband (Brendan's best friend) Cobb Kuzawa, get back together. The trip starts badly enough on the water when the bass doesn't show up, but then it turns really bad when Edna disappears, most likely kidnapped by local drug traffickers. Later that night, when the situation gets even worse, help is called in: Cobb's father, Jerry, an Army vet only a few years out of Vietnam --albeit only physically-- arrives "extra pronto" and fully prepared (think 12-gauge shotguns and "I can get my hands on any C-4 explosives we might need.") They decide to take on the gang of drug traffickers to save Edna. Or, as Cobb simplified it "Creep in and overpower the bastards. Pick up Edna. Go on home. Drink PBR. Life is good."
Lake Charles is a modern western where pick-up trucks replace horses --while raising a lot more dust, dirt and devilish deeds--where friendship and revenge are pinned on your dirty shirt like a sheriff's silver star and where bullets and hunting arrows are shot as much as bottles of beer and whiskey are emptied out. Think Daniel Woodrell with a splash of Cormac McCarthy, stirred with some of Ken Bruen's poetic ruggedness and voilà, it's the Lynskey special concoction. In short, something that the Coen brothers were born to direct.
And if they ever do, I'll be first in line to see it.
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(read from pdf of uncorrected proof)