Written by CS DeWildt — One of the things which makes book reviewing such a rewarding thing to do is the opportunity to discover great new writers and pass on their work to others. Sometimes a book comes along, from an author you’ve never read before, that just blows you away. Love You to a Plup is one such book.
Neil Chambers is perhaps crime fiction’s least glamorous PI. The classic detective might have a rumpled suit, a five o’clock shadow and a well-earned cynicism but they have nothing on Neil. He works in Brownsville, and just where in the USA that is we are never never told. But it’s rural and it’s poor. By and large, his customers don’t want fancy detection or evidence-gathering, they just want the kind of payback Neil’s fists can provide. It’s probably just as well since Neil spends most of his day with a solvent-dipped rag around his mouth and is prone to frequent blackouts. He’s nearly 40 now, and life has dealt him such a series of blows – a pimp for a father, a prostitute for a mother, the murder of one parent, the suicide of another, the most heart-breaking ending imaginable to his only real relationship – that even though he knows the glue is killing him, he’s long past caring.
Neil is interrupted one night by Jenkins, the local pharmacist, who’s been on the end of a beating and tells Neil it was at the hands of his daughter Helen and her boyfriend Hoon. They came to his shop for his Oxycontin supply. Jenkins wants Helen back and Hoon beaten. Neil has his doubts about Jenkins’ story since Hoon has never really seemed the strong-arm type but finds the lure of cash too hard to resist and agrees to the job. He finds Hoon alone at his shack, and after an initial confrontation decides to stay back for surveillance. Unfortunately he blacks out after another glue binge and when he comes to he finds Hoon murdered and no sign of Helen.
When he tracks Helen down, her alibi is that she was at Hoon’s ex-wife’s house at the time of his death, returning her kids who had been staying with them. Since their divorce, Heidi has moved up in the world, marrying Paul Skaggs, a successful injury lawyer who is rumoured to have a piece of the local prostitution and porn rackets. Helen had been stripping at one of his clubs. When Hoon’s murder is written off as a suicide and the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy is murdered, the stakes are raised further. Neil’s investigation, if you can call it that, brings him up against local enforcers and a murderous sheriff’s deputy with a personal grudge against him, and hurtles toward an ending so perfectly judged that it can be read any number of ways.
To be sure, this is a bleak read at times. But it would be a great shame if that put readers off. The tragedy is lightened by some black humour, and Neil’s dogged struggle towards the truth lends him a dignity that in lesser hands he might have ended up lacking. Furthermore the writing is a delight, with strong characters, clear plotting and some stand out scenes. The account of the young Neil’s bare-knuckle bouts are a particular highlight. Love You to a Pulp is a stunning rural noir that would leave Jim Thompson nodding in admiration.
All Due Respect
CFL Rating: 5 Stars