Written by Jake Hinkson — Hell on Church Street is the first novel published this year by New Pulp Press – and is this author’s debut. Like every other book from this independent publisher, this is noir all the way. These guys walk on the dark end of the street.
Set in the American South, a place of social conservatism and values voters, Hell on Church Street is narrated in the first person by Geoffrey Webb. When we first meet Geoffrey he is about to be held up by an un-named criminal, having been identified as a loser and an easy mark. What follows is an account of the events that Geoffrey has been running from and left him living as a ‘termite’.
Unhappy at home and unpopular with other kids, a younger Geoffrey has low expectations when forced to join a church. Anticipating one more area of social activity he will fail in, Geoffrey is surprised to find other parishioners treat him with civility, if not actual friendship. Confident in his own ability to get the measure of others, and contemptuous of their prejudices, he begins to realise he can make himself a nice life within the church by repeating meaningless platitudes and telling people what they wish to hear.
When Geoffrey gets a job as a youth minister with a church in a nearby small town he is at first convinced he will be discovered as a fraud but after being accepted he lets down his guard and begins a sexual relationship with the preacher’s daughter, still at school and under the age of consent. They are discovered by the local sheriff, meth-cooker and eldest son of a truly frightening matriarch. Blackmailed into theft, things quickly ramp up to murder and arson as Geoffrey tries to protect his position within the church, and even his life.
Themes of religion and family loyalty are explored within the book and I wasn’t surprised to read that Hinkson was raised in a strongly religious family. As an English atheist much of the setting of book is alien and unfamiliar but Hinkson kept me engaged throughout. If I make this book seem like heavy going don’t be put off. Indeed I read this in a single day and there is plenty of (admittedly black) humour in Webb’s account.
Hinkson has been compared to Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford and while he may not be at their level yet, Hell on Church Street wont disappoint fans of either. Certainly comparisons with Scott Phillips and Dave Zeltsermann are not unfair. Hell on Church Street is a short darkly funny read and I very much look forward to the author’s next.
New Pulp Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars