Written by C Joseph Greaves — In May of 2012, former LA trial lawyer Chuck Greaves made his literary debut with Hush Money, about a show horse that dies under suspicious circumstances. Back, and writing under the name C Joseph Greaves, he drops us right in the middle of the Dirty Thirties – so named for the dust storms and droughts that claimed much of the American prairie lands. Hard Twisted is set in 1934, the year Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot down by the Louisiana law. Dill Garrett and his daughter Lucile, or Lottie, have been hobo-ing around the Dustbowl doing odd jobs and getting by the best they can. It was a hardscrabble, extremely rough time in American history, and thousands of people were forced to leave their homes, especially in Oklahoma, which is where Lottie’s story begins.
Eventually, the duo meet up with the charismatic Clint Palmer, fresh out of prison, and Palmer makes Dill an offer he can’t refuse. He’s got a cockfighting scheme that he says will guarantee good money, and being no stranger to crime (especially moonshine), Dill agrees to join in. Palmer convinces him to come to Texas, and soon they’re camping out with Palmer and the rest of a very rough group of men and women. Palmer has succeeded, somewhat, on working his dubious charms on the 13-year-old Lottie, and it’s not like she has much of a choice but to go along with the plans. After a rape attempt on Lottie from one of the men in the camp is thwarted by her father, who manages to get quite a few punches in on the would-be rapist, he then takes his rage out on Lottie too. Evidently, beatings and quoting scripture go hand in hand for Dill Garrett.
Soon after the attempted rape, Palmer is forced to pack the cockfighting venture in, revealing that the law might be hot on his trail. Lottie wakes to find her father is missing and Palmer tells her that Dill Garrett is a wanted man. Evidently, Dill asked Palmer to look after Lottie, and they will catch up with him at some point in the future. Palmer and young Lottie – whom he has renamed Johnny Rae – set out across the American Southwest, ostensibly to meet up with her father.
I was already suspicious that something was amiss with Lottie’s father at this point, and it’s this sense of dread that will accompany you as you journey along with Palmer and Lottie. Palmer isn’t above using Lottie to get what he wants – she’s a useful distraction during a card game, for instance – and physically abuses her when it suits him. He tempers this casual cruelty with brief moments of kindness, but it’s all a sociopath’s game and young Lottie never has a chance. She is at his whim, and frequently, his whim includes murder. Lottie is left on her own much of the time, counting the minutes while Palmer drinks, gambles, and sleeps. Lottie’s got more problems than just a missing father and a violent foster carer, which becomes increasingly obvious as the story moves along. And so it goes for a bit, with the duo playing house in an abandoned cabin. Palmer goes on nightly gambling forays, and Lottie frequently takes her horse, Henry, out during the day while he sleeps, for brief moments of freedom.
The narrative is interwoven by passages where a lawyer questions Lottie in what’s obviously a criminal trial, and it serves to give the reader a glimpse of what’s to come. It really highlights just how young Lottie is, and especially the miracle of her survival with evil as her constant companion. My heart broke repeatedly for Lottie and I continuously marveled at the magnificent sense of time and place that the author captures during the ill-fated journey of Clint and a young girl in over her head. The blasted, dust covered American landscape of Hard Twisted seems at times to be a distant planet, cold in its starkness, yet stifling and unforgiving in its cracked, unyielding ground.
Hard Twisted reads quickly, and its unsentimental, spare prose almost makes the events more shocking. When the truth of Palmer’s crimes comes to light, you won’t be surprised, but you may find yourself questioning the fine line between victim and accomplice in this creepy, superbly written thriller. Hard Twisted is actually based on a true story, and most names in the book are of people who really did exist. Clint Palmer and Lottie Garrett were very real, and although this is a fictionalised account of Lottie’s year with Clint, for me, this fact just added another layer to an already fascinating and chilling story.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars