If you have a Kindle, you should really try the terrific DIG TEN GRAVES
I am very happy to have Heath Lowrance for you this week on MY DARK PAGES. Heath has been blasting his way through the ranks of the most solid dark fiction writers in 2011. I loved his first novel THE BASTARD HAND, but his short story collection DIG TEN GRAVES saw both of my legs off. I have also heard that his latest THAT DAMNED COYOTE HILL is even outdoing them both. He's a writer you don't want to let off your radar. Here are his dark pages...
Most of the really important things in my life, I don’t remember the details. I don’t know why. Too much drinking as a younger man? Too many drugs? Too many blows to the head? Whatever the cause, my brain is like a sieve when it comes to the things that we normally think of as important. The day I got married, the day my daughter was born, the day I sold my first story—those events are almost like second-hand accounts I heard once, a long time ago.
But I remember, vividly, reading Jim Thompson for the first time.
Jim Thompson, the Mad Prince of Psycho-Noir. A man who wrote more than his fair share of mediocre books, but more than made up for it by the sheer genius and bravado of a handful of other books. Game-changers.
For me, it was POP.1280. Some fans will cite THE KILLER INSIDE ME as Thompson’s best, or maybe THE GRIFTERS. And maybe I’d feel the same way if I’d read one of those first… but I didn’t. I read POP. 1280 first, and it had an impact on me that I’m still feeling now, almost twenty-five years later.
That first chapter, with its surprisingly laconic humor—Nick Corey, High Sheriff of Potts County, telling us how he just doesn’t know what to do, he’s so torn up he can barely finish his heaping breakfast and how he can only sleep for eight or nine hours before waking up again… and how finally, after thinking and thinking, he comes to a decision: he decides he doesn’t know WHAT to do.
He’s a likeable doofus in that first chapter, a sort of grinning good ole’ boy who wouldn’t harm a fly. And that right there? That’s Thompson setting you up, tricking you into looking the other way before shoving you out in front of a moving bus. Because as POP. 1280 moves on, you start seeing different facets of Nick Corey: the cheating husband, the cruel manipulator, and finally, the full-on delusional monster. Nick Corey is no doofus, no easy-going Andy Griffith. He’s a sociopathic genius and maybe even the very embodiment of evil.
I’ve read POP. 1280 ten or twelve times now, and each time I marvel at Thompson’s skill at parceling out clues and indications that not all is right in Corey’s head. I marvel at the escalating drama and violence, the subtle shift away from crime thriller and into surreal character study.
And yes, I’m aware that a fondness for Jim Thompson is a bit of a cliché these days. Fuck it, man, I don’t care. There’s a reason Thompson is so beloved by fans of dark crime stories, and I see very little point in pretending otherwise.
Discovering Thompson led me, as a young reader and writer, into a startling new world of literature that I had no idea existed. Those Black Lizard re-prints, you know? Eventually, I found my way to many other great noir writers of the past. Loved many of them. But the only other one to really shake me to my foundations was Charles Willeford, a book called BLACK MASS OF BROTHER SPRINGER.
But that’s another story, I reckon.