A Welcome Murder by Robin Yocum is set in the gritty Rust Belt town of Steubenville, Ohio, told through the perspectives of five different, deeply memorable characters.
Steubenville’s (Ohio) population has been declining since it peaked in 1940. According to Wikipedia, a 2010 census shows the number of residents has decreased faster than any other urban area in the United States. Despite the hardships over the last century, Steubenville has produced an eclectic group of celebrities, from the famous crooner Dean Martin to the infamous underage porn star Traci Lords, not to mention a large batch of athletes.
Robin Yocum’s Johnny Earl is one that almost made the escape on his prowess as a baseball player … until his career ended with a knee injury. He doesn’t have much to fall back on. He talks with the vapid personality of a former jock who found out too late that the kids who paid attention in science and math have a plan A, B, and C.
I’ve really screwed up my life. That’s also a fact. I had it all. I mean, so far as Steubenville was concerned, I was the king. I was the best-looking kid in our school. I’m not bragging, just telling you the way it was. […] But in high school, I had thick, dark hair that I parted in the middle and feathered back over my ears. My eyes are pale blue, I have a little cleft in my chin, and I had the most perfect set of teeth you ever saw.
But now, the balding dud’s most recent accomplishment is graduating from a seven-year-stretch at the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, for selling cocaine. He’d had a job as a construction worker with dreams of buying a backhoe and dump truck to start his own excavating business. However, an old school-chum-turned-FBI-informant, Rayce Daubner, helps the Feds send him up. After his stint, he just wants to collect the cash he had squirreled away and get the hell out of town—but Rayce is murdered, and Johnny’s brought in for questioning.
Mr. Yocum does a juggling act of rotating no less than five protagonists, including Johnny. Another, Dena Marie, continues to hold a torch for the former baseball star.
It comes down to the fact that I really only care about one thing in life. I still want to be Mrs. Johnny Earl. Despite everything that’s happened, if he would have me, I would go to him in a heartbeat. I know that is the only thing in life that is going to make me happy and settle down and act like a decent human being. I don’t even care that he’s bald. I don’t care that he didn’t become a famous major leaguer. I don’t care that he’s a convicted drug dealer.
I want to be Mrs. Johnny Earl.
While she waits, she routinely takes in a slice of something on the side. For instance, Sheriff Francis Roberson—who wants to run for Congress—admits that he has always longed for Dena though he knows he will remain second fiddle to Johnny Earl. And we hear from Roberson’s wife Allison, who knows her hubby has “slithered between the sheets with that little tramp.”
Each chapter is headed with the character whose POV is engaged, and most often Mr. Yocum pulls it off—though at times voices seem to take on similar cadences as lives intertwine. The story is tightly wound and labyrinthine in execution, grinding out the story of born losers now mixed up in deepening deceit, drugs, and murder. If I could pick a retro song to play for such wasted lifetimes, it would be Steubenville’s favorite songster Mr. Martin with the sappy, saccharine-induced “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.”
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.