40) You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames
Sometimes life seems to set you up to read a particular book, regardless of whether it had been on your mind to or not. Such is the case with this short hard-boiled crime novel from Jonathan Ames – I’d picked it up from the bookshare outside our local station a while back, not really thinking about it, but recognising the Pushkin Vertigo cover (I’d previously enjoyed Frederic Dard and Friedrich Durrenmatt published by the same house). I forgot I had done so, and put it on the growing TBR (to be read) pile. Then I listened to the latest episode of the Richard Herring podcast, which was with a dry and acerbic American writer called Jonathan Ames (it’s well worth a listen: highly entertaining). Then I came home, noticed the book, and made the connection.
It’s a short novel (novella really) which follows a man becoming embroiled in a criminal case that has complications and consequences that threaten to unravel his strange but successful existence as a sort of former soldier-turned rescuer of tricky situations on the fringes of the law: primarily girls in the sex trade. We also learn that he had an abusive childhood that has informed his future life, and his preference for the hammer as a weapon. Suffice to say that as his life starts to unravel because of a case, he starts seeking revenge on those responsible…
The clipped sentences reminded me of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, but this is bleaker and more violent. Ames is renowned more as a humorist, but this has a cold heart and icy blood in its veins. There is little redemption to find, nor shafts of light amongst the gloom. And there’s quite a lot of death in variously gruesome ways.
I read a review that described this as a ‘toxic shot’ of noir, and I think that’s an accurate description. It doesn’t last long but it certainly packs a punch and takes no prisoners; and you might have something of a psychological hangover afterwards. I won’t be rushing to seek out to watch the film version with Joaquin Phoenix, but Ames is obviously an accomplished writer, so I’ll be seeking out his lighter fare in future.
BUY IT NOW: You Were Never Really Here