Nowhere Nice by Rick Gavin is the third novel of lowdown Delta crime featuring repo man Nick Reid and his partner Desmond (available November 19, 2013).
Nick Reid will repossess anything; even someone else’s hard earned robbery swag. They say there is no honor among thieves and to prove it he robs from a vile thieving meth lord. The problem is that this vile thieving meth lord is also a vile murdering meth lord and has gotten so pissed about the whole thing that he breaks out of prison to hunt Nick and his pals down, which is the engine for this high-horse-powered novel by Rick Gavin.
Compared by some to a modern reincarnation of Mark Twain with his free and often effortless use of vernacular, Gavin's Nowhere Nice feels real enough it could be the closed-captioning for a documentary of redneck meth culture. And this is where it derives its power. This novel isn’t a gothic lamentation of things past. Instead, it’s a muscular novel of the new south where the only thing gothic is the chick serving coffee at Starbucks. Amidst the trailers and trash and terrible people, Gavin’s narrative shows us how real southerners live, what they have to do to survive, and the almost medieval chivalry which is their code.
Being a southerner myself, I can’t stand novels about my homeland which straddle the realms of pastiche and cliché. These novels are most often written by someone NOT from the south who collects their data by mining the internet and their immediate family. Such novels are flat, awful things which are best served to prop up a short-legged end table and are frankly insulting. Nowhere Nice isn’t one of these novels.
From the opening lines you can tell it’s written by a southerner who was there and is writing what he knows.
Me and Desmond were wrestling a gas range out of a hummocky tangle of fescue. The people who’d bought that stove on time from K-Lo had left it in their yard. They were Arkansas Guthries who appeared to have abandoned their trailer home but not before they’d pitched their major appliances out the door. Their refrigerator had crushed a gardenia bush. Their washer had half demolished the pump house. Desmond wasn’t surprised. He had some repo history with Arkansas Guthries. He explained to me, “Their way of saying, ‘Take your damn shit back.’ ”
Nick Reid and his friend Desmond soon find themselves warning their fellow thieving redneck friends that the meth lord has escaped and is hot for their heads. The book becomes a sort of travelogue of the interesting and misunderstood, as Nick and Desmond go from fight to bar to fight to bar, until they finally meet their nemesis on a storm-blasted golf course. What happens then and who survives is waiting for you to get there, but as is with all truly good books, the ride there is almost more luxurious than what happens. Almost.
This sort of backwoods noir is heavily reminiscent of the old detective novels I cut my teeth on back before the iPad, when there were only three television channels, and when we thought professional wrestling was a real sport. Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and Raymond Chandler’s Playback are kudzu cousins to Nowhere Nice, sharing the literary genetics of crooked police, questionable women, good guys only barely better than the bad guys, and the rigors of small town, backcountry politics.
Written from Nick Reid’s point of view, we are immersed in the language and character of an unapologetic repo man just trying to survive and get along with fate. Approachable as his own version of the aw shucks hero, Reid is kin to Chandler’s Marlow and Hammett’s nameless detective employed by the Continental Detective Agency. Read this passage and let it rattle around in your head for a moment:
We’d broken a few laws when we tangled with that Boudrot, and I’d been out of policing long enough to not be clear on what they were. Arson for sure. Assault most likely. More than a little felonious menacing and probably some grand theft too. It was all in a bid to put that Boudrot in prison where he belonged, but the whole enterprise had ended up with the bunch of us keeping his money. That had to be the thing Guy Baptiste Boudrot was most put out about. It didn’t matter that he could sell more meth and make another fortune. We’d messed with his shit, and he wasn’t the sort to tolerate something like that.
Do you hear it? That authentic tone of a character close to the right side of the law. The phrasing of a man who knows criminals possibly better than he knows good people. We’re drawn to these characters. We like to watch good-bad guys overcome bad things done by bad-badguys. It’s a comfortable feeling to be able to sit back and read a character I at once know and don’t know. It’s like meeting a person for the first time and going away feeling like old friends. It happens rarely, but when it does, it’s not something you tend to forget.
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Weston Ochse is the author of ten novels, most recently Age of Blood: SEAL Team 666. His first novel, Scarecrow Gods, won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel and his short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in comic books, and magazines such as Cemetery Dance and Soldier of Fortune. He lives in the Arizona desert within rock throwing distance of Mexico. He is a military veteran with 29 years of military service and is currently stationed in Afghanistan.