Written by Rob Pierce — Dustin doesn’t hold down an ordinary job – he robs banks to pay the bills. It’s a compulsive cycle with him. Generate some dollars, spend them, steal some more. When we meet Dust he is between jobs, working his way through a suitcase of cash. He’s living with Theresa and her 10-year-old son, Jeremy, in some nameless town in America.
The domestic thing doesn’t suit Dust, ultimately he leaves everyone, but there’s something about the boy. He’s small for his age and gets bullied at school. Despite himself, Dust develops a connection and starts to help the kid. He’s convinced there’s something dubious about Theresa’s ex, Davis. Maybe he’s abusing Jeremy, so Dust makes it his personal goal to make sure Davis stays clear.
But Dust’s self-imposed car crash syndrome soon kicks in. As the money depletes, so does his relationship with Theresa and he ends up in bed with bar tender Olivia. While he plans a new heist, against his better judgement, he takes a job collecting gambling debts on behalf of local gang boss, Tenny. It’s soul destroying work beating up losers for their cash but Dust convinces himself it’s temporary, just to tide him over.
Then Dust’s bank job goes horribly wrong and he takes a bullet. He decides enough is enough and it’s time to get out, however to do so means taking on Tenny and more than likely signing his own death warrant…
Cynicism drips out of Dust’s every pore. Here is a man who hates – no, loathes – everything about the world, particularly himself. Ultimately he destroys everything he comes into contact with. He drinks heavily, cannot stay faithful to the particular woman he is with at the time, and money dribbles through his fingers. He’s perhaps the single most dislikable protagonist I’ve come across. And that’s part of the problem with Uncle Dust. It’s difficult to feel any empathy for an anti-hero who has barely a single redeemable feature to justify the ‘hero’ part of the description. Even his apparent relationship with the boy Jeremy is flawed. I struggled to find a hook to make me care about him or even any of the other characters. The one exception is his ex-con friend, Rico, who finds Dust jobs. He’s the only person who doesn’t end up being one of his victims.
Difficulty connecting with Dust starts from the get-go. For instance, he has a suitcase of cash stashed at Theresa’s, but $200 is missing. It’s not a large sum, but Dust then spends page upon page trying to find out who took it. A few bucks were taken by Jeremy, but that’s it. This brings him into contact with Theresa’s ex, Davis. Immediately all thought of the cash is forgotten. Okay, the missing money leads us to another major character, but was it worth getting so worked up over only to abruptly move on?
Uncle Dust is written in the first person, which should does bring you closer to the action, but it seems to make the character separation all the more defined. There’s no outline of Dust’s appearance and I couldn’t describe him if asked. It’s a way through the novel before his name is even mentioned. The town where the action occurs is also unstated.
The storyline feels like series of unfolding events, one after the other, as Dust meanders through life, hating everything. There are only so many times we can be shown how awful he is at relationships. That said, the narrative is very well constructed and the gritty, seedy aspects of life get right under your fingernails. Rob Pierce’s writing itself is strong and commanding. If you are a reader who likes your noir a darker shade of black, Uncle Dust could be it. However, as can happen with characters this extreme, it’s too difficult to empathise with Dust himself.
All Due Respect Books
CFL Rating: 2 Stars