Book Review : Iain Ryan - Harsh Recovery (2016)
Order HARSH RECOVERY here (when it goes back online)
There are two ways one can go about writing rotten cops : you either embrace realism and moral ambiguity the way Don Winslow did or write the most ridiculously evil, sadistic and power hungry loons you can think of and turn the entire planet against them. Australian crime writer Iain Ryan writes the latter kind of rotten cops novels and he's fucking great at it. His first two novels Four Days and Drainland both finished in my year-end lists for their respective years of release, so I was pretty stoked to learn that he self-published two new Jim Harris and Laura Romano novels in the past months. Harsh Recovery is the third and perhaps bleakest and most unflinching novel in one of my favorite ongoing series.
Long story short, it's fucking awesome.
My favorite dirtbag cops Harris and Romano share the spotlight in Harsh Recovery. Not only they work together, but they each get their own individual storyline. Harris is investigating the murder of a dominatrix he used to see after her putrefied body washes ashore and Romano is busy with a mystery parcel she received at her home. Those familiar with the charms of Tunnel Island know any occurrence is connected and shit's thoroughly fucked up in the hood. And it is. Romano is trying to get sober after the events of Drainland and she's got herself the perfect sponsor to relapse in Harris. Harsh Recovery might be an understatement in this context. Tunnel Island is a one way trip.
So, that Iain Ryan guy is pretty great at writing. And what makes him great is not so easy to define. See, I believe Ryan's appeal lies primarily in his economy of language. He defines himself (or once defined himself) as a minimalist. The key sentences in Harsh Recovery (which deliver key information about the narratives) respect a certain logic: they're short, declarative and put emphasis on one or two worlds only. Sometimes they're gorgeous, thoughtful words and sometimes they're banal, everyday words that are empowered by a powerful context Iain Ryan creates. I don't know anybody else who write like this. I know this is a weird and abstract thing to like a novel for, but he's an example of what I mean:
Romano stopped running. A crying jag got the better of her. She folded herself down into the sand and wept. With a shaky hand she took her reward cigarette from her shorts and lit it. The tears kept coming. She wasn't sure who she was crying for anymore. She deserved all this. And the Rep Brothers got what they had coming to them. So these feelings made no rational sense.
In a handful of lines, Ryan described a profoundly depressed character (which isn't THAT hard), hinted at her addiction problems with a detail (which is a little harder) and alluded to her self-aware and analytical nature (this is really hard). His precise choice of words enabled him to do that. By giving you extreme clarity about the situation and little else, Iain Ryan allows you do draw your own mental portrait of Laura Romano and decide for yourself whether your like her or not. I've rarely seen this level of skill and confidence in a writer. Not only the guy can flat out write, but his work has a distinct and reader-friendly identity. He's both compelling and fun to read.
But the novel, right? Is Harsh Recovery a run-of-the-mill mystery or is there more than meets the eye to it? Glad you asked. There are really cool pseudo-religious undertones to it. Tunnel Island is introduced as somewhat of a "last chance purgatory" given to dirty cops by dirty cops in Drainland, but it's not until Harsh Recovery that you figure out Harris and Romano are in a literal hell. Every living being on Tunnel Island are damned souls living with a baggage of negative karma and constantly put in position to add to it. I mean, Harris is somewhat of a smoking gun if you've read all the novels (he's been trapped there for over twenty years). No matter what Harris and Romano do, it adds to their karma debt. The only way any character has off the island is by dying. This pseudo-religious subtext gave Harsh Recovery a surreal edge that exquisitely complemented the over-the-top villainy of the novel.
Iain Ryan temporarily pulled the Tunnel Island novels from sale a little while ago. Not sure when exactly they're going back, but I strongly suggest you let him know your desire to read them. They are a freakin' international treasure and they should be declared as such by UNESCO. Nicolas Cage should try and steal the manuscript in whatever new movie he's in. If you're into rotten cops, start with Four Days, proceed to Drainland and Harsh Recovery, and finish with Civil Twilight, which I'm going to review this Friday. Harsh Recovery was an absolute riot, the kind of novel I would've like to come up with myself. Seriously, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this review and start seeking these novels wherever you can. They are absolute fire and Harsh Recovery might just be the crowning jewel of them all.