Lightwood: greed in gritty Florida

I have been a fan of Steph Post since I read her debut A Tree Born Crooked a couple of years ago. With her sophomore novel Lightwood, Post reminds us that she is an amazing talent who has claimed her position in the southern noir genre.

Judah Cannon is released from prison, and there’s no one there to pick him up. He’s disappointed but not surprised. His life has never been fairy tale.

He walks to the bar he frequented as a younger man, where he runs into his best friend/unrequited love interest Ramey.  Seeing Ramey gives Judah a rare glimpse of optimism. Maybe he can have a normal life.

But Judah’s father Sherwood won’t allow it. He needs Judah for the family business. The same business that landed Judah in prison.

Judah doesn’t see denying Sherwood’s request as an option. So he goes along with the “simple” heist. But before he can settle in with Ramey and the newly acquired cash, Judah and the Cannons find themselves involved with a ruthless biker gang and a lunatic Pentecostal preacher named Sister Tulah. When Judah’s little brother Benji becomes the innocent victim of the Cannon’s greed, Judah makes it his mission to get revenge on everyone involved.

The setting is so strong you almost feel sweaty reading about the oppressive Florida heat.  All of the characters, even the ones who are only bit players, are fully formed and genuine.  Though Judah and Ramey are the obvious protagonists, it’s impossible not to become invested in each character’s fate.

Post’s stories are rich with family legacy and personal struggle. A Tree Born Crooked was Post’s introduction, and Lightwood is evidence that Post is headed for a long, successful career.

Girls can murder, too

Murder Girls by Christine Morgan completely took me by surprise, and I love that. It came to my attention because it was edited by my internet-bestie (she might not feel the same way so don’t tell her I said that) Melodie Ladner. Melodie writes Facebook status updates that make me spit my coffee at the screen in fits of surprise laughter. So I was interested to read the work she edited.

There are five protagonists (or antagonists, depending on how you look at it). Having so many could have been confusing, or their differences could have been stereotypical like the Spice Girls. No offense to you Spice Girl fans, but you know what I mean. One’s cute, one’s athletic, one’s a stuck-up bitch. But somehow, Christine Morgan pulls this off. The characters are very different from one another, but in ways that you and I are different from our friends. And after the first chapter it’s easy to remember who is who.

Murder Girls is a satirical coming-of-age story. These five young women are figuring out how they want to live, and how they want to kill. It’s often cringe-inducing, but there’s enough dark humor sprinkled in to bring relief.

The premise is a little out there. But believing that all five girls would go along with the decision to murder is easy once you get to know them. And Morgan makes sure you get to know them all without force-feeding their stories. The setting descriptions are rich, and the scenes are easy to visualize, even when you’re rather not.

Murder Girls is a fun, suspenseful read that leaves you wanting more.

 

A Treasure and a Curse

I love it when I read a book and can’t stop thinking about it. And that’s exactly what I’ve found in Laura Ellen Scott’s The Juliet.

Set against the surprisingly rich backdrop of Death Valley, The Juliet is the tale of a cursed emerald whose most famous owner was a celebrated prostitute named Lily Joy. Integral to the legend of the emerald is the Mystery House, a glorified shack perched above Centenary, Nevada.

The story in the forefront is of a retired cowboy actor named Rigg Dexon who has taken up residence in the Mystery House. The blooming wildflowers bring tourists to his door, and draw him out of seclusion. What follows is a tale rich with both generosity and greed, fortune and disaster.

Scott gives us the emerald’s 100-year history in time-jumping chapters. She does this seamlessly, with no feeling of “where am I now?” There is a broad cast of characters, and each one is as fascinating as the next. It’s really fun to read about people who willingly forsake everything for a jewel.

The Juliet is mesmerizing and haunting. It begs the question:  Is there really a curse that follows the Juliet, or is it just greed that does its owners in?

Peckerwood: raw, gritty perfection

You probably won’t find a character to love in Peckerwood. But the thing about this book is, you don’t need to love the characters to love the book. And though the characters aren’t likable people, each character is developed enough to understand why he or she might be such a shithead.

The story centers on the symbiotic relationship between a redneck crime boss and the local sheriff, and the forces that cause their relationship to implode.  One of those forces being Terry Hickerson, peckerwood-extraordinaire of Spruce, Missouri.  Terry usually sticks to booze, drugs, women, and theft. But he’s not smart enough to stay within his depth. And a chance encounter with the sheriff’s daughter lands him in the middle of two most powerful and dangerous men in town.

From the very first page, Jedidiah Ayres grabs the reader by the nuts and demands attention.  Ayres builds each scene carefully, sparing no detail without wasting words. The lifestyle and locations are distinctly southern, but could be related to the American underbelly in any state. Poverty and inadequate education yield similar results anywhere in the country.

It doesn’t take long to realize that the characters in Peckerwood aren’t striving for redemption. But their paths are so intriguing, you have to strap in to see just how low they’ll go.

Peckerwood is Jedidiah Ayres’s debut novel. He also has a short story collection titled A F*ckload of Shorts that I’m excited to read.

In Peckerwood, Ayres has found raw, gritty perfection that will stick with you for days. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

peckerwood