Friday, August 10, 2018

Review of Lamentation by Joe Clifford (Oceanview Publishing, 2014)

Jay Porter struggles to get by in the small town of Ashton in northern New Hampshire. His life is stuck in a rut, having separated from his girlfriend and young son, eking out a living clearing houses, and trying to keep an eye on his drug-addicted older brother. As winter closes in, his brother is once more in trouble after his business partner goes missing. Somehow, Chris had managed to start a business recycling old computers and something on a hard-drive has him riled up. Before Jay can find out what it is, Chris has disappeared into the night and snow. Shortly after, the business partner is dead and there is a major manhunt underway. To add to Jay’s woes his girlfriend announces that she’s leaving the area. As with when they split, Jay decides to prioritize finding his brother and straightening out the conspiracy he seems tangled-up in. But this is a problem that is not easily solved given how much is at stake.

Lamentation is the first book in the Jay Porter series. In this first outing, Jay is living in a small town that has seen better times, is struggling to get by, and is trying to maintain a relationship with his estranged girlfriend and two-year old son. He also periodically bails his drug-addicted older brother, Chris, out of trouble. This time, however, Chris seems to be in deeper trouble than normal being wanted for questioning in relation to a murder and being on-the-run. Along with his friend, Charlie, and an old school friend turned insurance investigator, Jay tries to find his brother before the police. Stubborn unwillingness to see what’s in front of his face and quick to dismiss his brother’s claims of possessing explosive information, Jay makes hesitant progress that actually works against his brother’s interests, and his poking draws the ire of a well-connected family and a biker gang. Clifford does a nice job of portraying life on the edge in a struggling small rural town and how it can unravel further when tangling with larger forces. The characterisation is nicely done, though Jay’s stubbornness in thought was a bit wearing. In terms of the plot, there’s a strong hook and Clifford maintains a steady high pace, with plenty of action and intrigue. While for much of the tale the story seems relatively straightforward and well-telegraphed, Clifford has a couple of nice twists near the end that effectively re-orients the outcome, though the story ends relatively abruptly after a dramatic denouement. Overall, a decent dark slice of rural noir.

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