Des­perat ion Road by MICHAEL FAR­RIS SMITH

By MICHAEL FAR­RIS SMITH (NO EXIT) OUT NOW

Crime Scene - - POST MORTEM - By MARK BEAUMONT

The dust­bowl towns of Mis­sis­sippi: a place where the cops are even worse than the crim­i­nals, ev­ery­one drives all night with beer bot­tles be­tween their legs, and the lost and des­per­ate are way out on their own. Here we find Rus­sell Gaines, fresh from 11 years in the pen for killing a teenager while drink-driv­ing, and now be­ing hounded by the kid’s venge­ful brothers. Mean­while, so­cial cast­away Maben is running from the re­lent­less cru­el­ties of the world with her young daugh­ter, only to find her­self shoot­ing down a po­lice of­fi­cer.

The set-up is pure South­ern Noir, but Michael Far­ris Smith’s third novel as­pires to the emo­tional de­tail and finely traced in­ter­nal lives of Flan­nery O’con­nor, Cor­mac Mccarthy or Harper Lee. Ac­tion is brief and bru­tal, while a good deal of time is spent sketch­ing the bleak spa­ces and hope­less soul-search­ing, as the pair of pro­tag­o­nists spi­ral to­wards a shared fate.

His de­scrip­tive prose can often be too flat and repet­i­tive to ri­val the greats, but Smith han­dles the ag­o­nies left un­said be­tween Gaines and his ex-fi­ancee, Sarah, with a dev­as­tat­ing ten­der­ness and fleshes out his red-mist vil­lain Larry with the sym­pa­thy of South­ern gothic’s finest.

In a selfish, preda­tory world, Des­per­a­tion Road carves out a bloody chunk of re­demp­tion.

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