Year 3 / Book 40: You Were Never Really Here

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.

Score: 7/10

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