Sunday, November 16, 2014

It's Only Death

Its Only DeathIts Only Death by Lee Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When he was a teenager, Elmore James Jackson killed his father, a cop, in an attempted bank robbery and has been on the lam ever since. When his sister contacts him, saying their mother is dying of pancreatic cancer, James heads home to find a number of people want him dead...

I got this from the fine folks at DarkFuse via Netgalley.

This is one of those books that's hard to quantify. Is it a noir tale at redemption? Is it about family and loss? Does it emphasize that we all make our own choice and life is a circle? Or is it about a bunch of fuck-knuckles doing each other dirty?

Yes. I'd say it's all those things.

When James rolls into town, it sure seems like he's going to be rolling out in a pine box. Killing his father six years earlier threw his family life off the rails. His once angelic sister is a stripper. His father's old partner is gunning for him. His sister's douche bag boyfriend and his biker pals have it out for him. His only ally is the guy whose been pining over his sister since they were kids and even that's not on solid ground.

It's hard to root for a screw-up sociopath but Lee Thompson does a great job making me feel sympathy for James. When almost every character in the book is a gaping asshole, James is the least assholish, I guess. It would have been easy for Thompson to use the tale's setup to do the Jack Reacher-style tough guy rolls into town and becomes a gun-toting super hero on all the bad guys but it doesn't go down like that. It's Only Death is more or less a bleak tale about facing the music and getting what's coming to you.

That's not to say there isn't bloodshed. I'm pretty sure everyone is dead or dying by the end apart from one or two characters. There is gunplay, brutal fisticuffs, knives, and even an alligator. It wasn't a long book but I was pretty worn out by the end of it.

It's Only Death is a bleak dysfunctional noir tale that only someone with the last name Thompson could write. Four out of Five Stars.

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