Officer Dale Everett Banks comes into money when he nabs fifty-two thousand from the trailer of known meth dealer Jerry Dean Skaggs. When Skaggs discovers his loot is missing, all hell breaks loose. You see, the money wasn’t all his – it’s owed to several partners as well as a crooked cop. With his back against the wall, Jerry Dean has his work cut out for him.
I received a free copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
When it comes to writing, there’s a piece of advice that you’re bound to receive: write what you know. When it came to the setting of Matthew McBride’s new novel and follow up to the excellent Frank Sinatra in a Blender, McBride took that advice and ran with it. A Swollen Red Sun, his new southern noir, takes place in the alleged meth capital of the US, Gasconade County. In a recent interview with Tim Hennessy of Crimespree Magazine, McBride said:
I think a writer should use region and background to their advantage if the story calls for it. A writer’s background is their strength — one of their strengths — whether they realize it or not. You just tend to draw from the memories you know and the places you’ve been and the things you’ve done and seen and the people you’ve known. I’m a blue-collar factory worker. And I’m proud of that. Knowing who you are inside helps to keep the writing honest.
The heat, the rolling hills and the stretches of forest of Gasconade County are front and center in McBride’s novel and he uses his knowledge of the land to immerse the reader in the true desperation of its residents. Aside from the drug trade, the area is also home to many wineries as well as several hard working farmers. But with every region, there’s always going to be a cross-section of the population who just aren’t cut out for that type of work. For those people, there’s always the drug trade to fall back on.
In a county with a population of just over fifteen thousand, there are nearly a dozen meth lab locations found – and those are just the ones known to the police. That’s a lot of crank. McBride’s novel explores the struggle in keeping the area clean and the known offenders off the streets. However, with noir, the novel’s protagonist isn’t exactly the squeaky clean man for the job. While you could certainly do a lot worse than swiping cash from drug dealers, it’s still not a noble move for a police officer. While McBride does show the reader a few glimmers of hope within the seemingly doomed community, you wonder if he thinks the area will ever improve.
And of course, there’s the writing. McBride shines again:
“Said he was prepared to shoot and meant it. Warrant or not. Justified or not. He’d rather be judged by twelve than carried by six.”
“Banks watched the sun creep over the forest of oak trees and a crack of light broke through the night and grew longer and wider and ate the black like a fungus until the darkness was gone and there was light and it was day.”
The only thing I really had issue with was the ending and that’s all on me. While the contents of the novel were as bleak as Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice-presidential aspirations, it sort of ends on a bit of a positive note. While it certainly fits well given McBride’s direction in the final fifty pages or so, I think I would have preferred a more grim aftertaste. Between Frank Sinatra in a Blender and A Swollen Red Sun, McBride has become a must-buy author in my books.