Written by Eric Beetner — While mainstream success continues to elude him, Eric Beetner has steadily been making a name for himself on the American indie scene this decade. He is a veteran writer of several novels and short story collections, as well as a regular participant in the Noir at the Bar series of live readings.
Nine Toes in the Grave is a novella published by All Due Respect, which had considerable success earlier this year with CS DeWildt’s Love You to a Pulp. We’ve previously reviewed Beetner’s indie novel Rumrunners as well.
Reese is a hired hand at a roadside diner in Anywheresville, USA, who finds himself in over his head when he starts an affair with Moira. Moira is out of his league, and married to the boss, Jake. But before Reese has stopped to think about what exactly Moira sees in him, it’s too late. Moira wants Jake out of the way, and when Reese demurs, she blackmails him and when that fails she shoots Jake herself.
Reese’s dad may have been a hardass, but Reese (perhaps as a result) is strictly for the straight and narrow. Facing a choice, he decides to run rather than tough things out with Moira and the cops. Knowing he won’t get far with the $30 he has in his back pocket and half tank of gas, and knowing he needs to stop panicking and think things through, he stops at a bar about 50 miles away. He knows he needs money quickly, and when he is approached by Gene and Ricardo, who claim to be repo men, he agrees to collect a car for them that night. Their story doesn’t really stack up, and whilst Reese is aware of this, the $500 he’s promised is just too tempting.
Gene and Ricardo drop him near the car and Reese agrees to deliver it to their business at 9am, at which point he will get paid. Reese finds the car without a problem, even boosts it, but is pulled over by the police when driving. The cop notices blood on the trunk, and sure enough, when its popped open there’s a corpse inside. A desperate Reese tries to persuade the cop of his innocence but Gene and Ricardo affect ignorance when Reese and the cop arrive. Now he’s going to be facing murder charges for the man in the trunk, and for Jake if Moira puts the frame on him as he expects her to.
When Reese assaults the cop he makes note that it’s his first criminal act. Now he is alone, on the run in an unfamiliar town with the law after him, and with a set of handcuffs dangling from his wrist. Maybe now’s the time for him to fight dirty, especially if he wants to get out of it.
Beetner is a veteran, and he is quite comfortable writing at this length. He doesn’t waste time setting up the conflict for Reese, and from that point on it is pedal to the metal all the way. There is plenty of action, and even a little character development as Reese is shown turning from a timid victim into a decisive tough guy.
The biggest problem though is that the plotting gets choppy towards the end of the book. I won’t spoil anything, but the twist toward the end seems unnecessary and unlikely. That aside, Nine Toes in the Grave provides an enjoyable diversion for an evening’s reading, and is certainly worth checking out if you like short and direct crime fiction in the noir fold.
All Due Respect
CFL Rating: 3 Stars