Book Review : Joe Clifford - Rag and Bone (2019)
Pre-Order Rag and Bone here (available on June 4)
Drawing a line between good and evil is easy. But if you ask more than one person to do it, you’ll quickly realize that line’s never in the same place. Everybody has different values and each one of us believe ours are righteous. It’s human nature. For author Joe Clifford’s protagonist Jay Porter, his certainty that the wealthy and powerful Lombardi brothers are evil was the driving force that carried him through four excellent novels. In the upcoming Rag and Bone, Jay comes home determined to become the hero of his own story and slay his personal dragons once and for all.
After spending a year on the run, Jay Porter comes back to his hometown in the mountains of New Hampshire without any evidence that Adam and Michael Lombardi made workers sick, planned for a man’s murder and everything else he’s accusing them of. He’s met by the suspicion of sheriff Turley and his newly divorced old friend from Give Up the Dead Alison Rodgers, who hires him to renovate her house. Alison was forced out of the rehab business after a fire on partner farm killed one of her young clients, so Jay decides to investigate on that instead of doing what he’s hired for, which leads him down an all too familiar path.
Ironically, what I liked most about Rag and Bone is how devoid of the Lombardi brothers it was. Without a well-defined evil to focus on, Jay Porter is forced to confront darkness in places he doesn’t necessarily want to go. To confront the lowlifes of Desmond Turnpike, where he seemed destined to end up until that point. Jay is looking for a conspiracy, but instead finds his own psychological demons. Don’t get me wrong, the Lombardis are in Rag and Bone. They’re just not the greatest danger to Jay anymore. He has become a danger to himself by trying to unearth the truth wherever he goes.
That brings me to what I believe is the magical ingredient that makes Jay Porter novels so fucking good. It’s not Porter himself that’s so great, but how he reflects on everyone around him. Alison Rodgers is a woman who just wants to get to the next chapter of her life. For a moment, she thinks Jay might be it. That’s why she’s hiring him to work on her house. But Jay’s obsession with the truth and his unhealthy need to act heroically bring only chaos to her life. Jay is so entrenched in his savior role, he doesn’t realize Alison doesn’t want to be saved of even vindicated. She just wants a new start alongside someone with a strong moral compass.
Same goes for Jay’s old buddy Fisher, who insists on helping Jay despite being treated like complete shit. Once again, Fisher really came out at a low-key heartbreaking character in Rag and Bone. Because helping Jay makes him feel like he’s doing something important. That he’s fighting the good fight. In that sense, he’s another reflection of Jay: all he really is the righteousness of his crusade. Rag and Bone gave me a new appreciation for Turley also. He’s so afraid to lose control and become a joke (because he is one and feels like one), he can’t stop tailing Jay like an annoying little brother. Jay is to him what the Lombardi brothers are to Jay.
Rag and Bone was bold, original and really felt like a conclusion to this saga. It didn’t buy into easy good versus evil rhetoric and instead was a celebration of its main character, the melancholic landscapes he lives in and an exploration of the ethical dilemma of seeing someone exceptional slowly destroy himself doing exceptional things. The Jay Porter novels are top-notch mysteries wrapped in a level psychological complexity that feels way too real. It’s as good as conventional mysteries can get, if you ask me. Sky is the limit for someone who can write like Joe Clifford does.