Inside by Kenneth J Harvey

Newfoundland noir - with knuckleheads
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Myrden's hometown is a nameless coastal port on Canada's Eastern seaboard. It's about as welcoming as his family: a geographical plughole rimmed with human flotsam and jetsam. Everyone in his world is looking for an easy buck, a get-out clause or a jet stream ride to what Tom Waits termed "the heart of Saturday night". The truth is that these no-hopers and nighthawks, bouncers and bruisers, are simply going nowhere fast. Harvey is adept at nailing their ridiculous dreams and pointless concerns; self-deception is his characters' drug of choice. Friends die, cops snarl and skies darken. It's all pretty unrelenting, but Harvey tempers it with some gritty humour. Randy, Myrden's loyal and protective best friend, is quick both with his fists and a neat line in barfly wit.

Harvey expertly captures Myrden's life of alcohol and alienation in a punchy rat-a-tat-tat vernacular: "Incarceration. People telling him it was a mistake. Putting him in. Letting him out. He could weep when he woke up. He was on the edge of it. He had no peace. His body wouldn't let him believe anything. Worked against him. Any moment now. They'll come for him."

As a crime novel, this doesn't really work; the investigation into the original murder is practically sidelined by all the ennui. It lacks the suspense of a great blue-collar caper like Scott Phillips' powerhouse The Ice Harvest. It's more absorbing as a chronicle of a man whose life has become so derailed by circumstances that he has just two points of reference: booze and brawn. As an examination of the speed and stupidity of violence it is particularly engaging. Myrden realises the danger of "the coils tightening in his shoulders and arms, in his stomach and jaw. If they wound too tight it would be over for all of them."

The Carver-esque sentences that, like the characters, seldom defer gratification add to the immediacy of Harvey's story. But, unlike Carver, Harvey invites little empathy from the reader: you just want to knock some sense into these knuckleheads. They seem oblivious to any possible salvation. When Myrden does snap out of the blues to warn his son it's as effective as an unloaded revolver. This remains a distinctive, albeit flawed, shot of Newfoundland noir that shows that freedom can often prove to be anything but a release.

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