Smoking on Mount Rushmore

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smokingonmountrushmoreWritten by Ed Lynskey — Based in Washington, DC, Ed Lynskey likes to write about the people on the fringes of American society. The folks without steady work, with a little addiction here and there, and perhaps the occasional criminal impulses… especially when they can get away with it. A lot of the time they know it’s wrong, but they can’t help themselves. In this noir-ish vein – some have dubbed it soft-boiled – he’s written a dozen novels and hundreds of short stories. Smoking on Mount Rushmore collects together 16 of the latter penned between 2000 and 2012.

The book takes its title from the final story in the anthology – and one of the best – which was originally called Striptease on Mount Rushmore. Lynskey wisely adapted the name as, in this internet age, he didn’t want the collection to go listed as pornography! The story’s about a young wife who’s railroaded into driving her husband to Mount Rushmore for a little naughtiness before he ships out to Iraq. But she has higher aspirations than pandering to some jarhead’s lust, and her mind drifts to the pistol she’s got in her bag – will he even see action in Baghdad?

Another excellent story here is Emily Trice Stoned, which is all about a down-and-out drinker who’s making his final comeback so that he can look after his teenage daughter with a bit more dignity. He’s working at a cemetery cutting the grass and keeping it tidy. Watching the mean spirited manager of the place skim off the plot fees, casket and headstone charges, he figures out a way of getting a respectable interment for a dead junkie. His redemption comes at the price of a vintage lawnmower, though, as Lynskey engineers a wonderful twist.

Several of the pieces include the author’s hardboiled PI Frank Johnson who brings a good dose of pace and intensity to the collection. He seeks out an evil nuclear scientist who needs to be taken down, helps out a friend dying of liver cancer down in Mexico and, strangely, also takes a job working with a thumbless woodsman while he ponders his future in the PI industry. His sidekick Gerald Peyton pops up too, and if you’ve read any of Lynskey’s six Johnson novels you’ll get a window on what the anti-hero does in his downtime.

In many cases, the stories in this collection deal with events that have already happened, or are implied. A past death, a wrong waiting to be put straight, a crime on the other side of town, some infidelity or a tragedy. Writing in this manner, Lynskey manages to keep his stories short and deftly conjures up some great character vignettes, which are often poignant. However, it is done at the expense of action. For all the sweat, smells, rust and suppressed guilt, I was wanting a bit more to happen at certain points.

However, at £1.91 on Kindle, this Ed Lynskey collection is well worth it, and if you like the cut of his literary jib, you might also enjoy Lake Charles, which we reviewed a while back and has plenty of gritty action inside.


CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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