Written by Jake Hinkson — This book collects many of Hinkson’s short fiction written over the last 20 years – stories that originally appeared in print and online in publications such as Beat to a Pulp, Crime Factory and Fires on the Plain. Previously I have raved about his novels Hell on Church Street and The Posthumous Man, and most recently we reviewed the novella Saint Homicide.
His books could be called examples Southern noir, but Hinkson’s intense interest on faith and religion, especially Southern Baptism, separates his writing from that of his peers such as Daniel Woodrell or Frank Bill. This collection of 15 stories is full of people whose religion is at the centre of their lives, sometimes seemingly a source of succour, and sometimes doing harm. I have read that Hinkson is ambivalent about his own faith, and his writing would seem to back that up. What is apparent is his recognition of the sincere beliefs of others. Readers who might be expecting a smug put down of rural people and their old-fashioned superstitions by a sophisticated urban author are going to be disappointed.
The stories vary in length from just two pages, like Good Cover, to the novelette entitled Our Violence. While most feature criminal acts of some kind or another, only a couple (Microeconomics, The Theologians for example) might be described as typical crime stories with a focus on a crime being plotted, then enacted with consequences following. Most have the crime occurring off the page or having happened before the story begins, and Hinkson’s emphasis is on character rather than action.
There is never a word wasted, but even using this approach it takes time to build a proper narrative and it is the longer stories which are most effective. In Our Violence, Hinkson has the space to show how a father and son grow apart over the young man’s decision to live with his girlfriend out of wedlock, how this decision was taken not only for love but also as a small act of rebellion against his over-bearing father, and how the latter’s inability to forgive his son because of pride, dressed up as his religious teaching, leads to tragedy. Another successful piece is The Empty Sky, in which an elderly lady looks back upon her younger life and her short, bitter marriage to a young preacher who felt she had trapped him into marriage, and who she gave up her pregnancy for.
Some of the shorter ones work less well. Good Cover is very brief, but with a twist in the tale. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t play to the author’s strengths. Elsewhere, The Girl From Yesterday and Microeconomics suffer a little from having rather abrupt endings.
The Deepening Shade is very much at the literary end of the crime genre, but thankfully Hinkson has the chops to pull it off. His sympathetic portrayal of down-on-their-luck people struggling to balance their baser instincts with their faith makes it a superior effort.
All Due Respect Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars