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      Jim Lawler: Mortal Shuffle.

       Red Rattle Books £7.99.

Hard copy and Kindle versions are available in the UK and Europe from October 2014.Kindle price to be announced.
 

Shakespeare fans will recognise in the title the reference to the play, Hamlet.  The similarities between Detective Nathan Wrench and the famous early anti-hero exist in Mortal Shuffle but, fortunately, are not emphasised.  This story of corruption, vice and murder stands alone.  It will grip the reader, especially after the murder is committed in the middle of the book.  From that point the pace is urgent and relentless.  Throughout Mortal Shuffle, we are not sure if Nathan is really crazy or, like Hamlet, merely pretending.  Either way, it disturbs.

As Carl, the boss of Nathan, says, ‘Pretending to be crazy is crazy.’

The parallel with the tortured Hamlet ensures that Nathan Wrench is different from the usual self-destructive policemen that haunt crime fiction.  Jim Lawler has been bold and created a detective whose problems are more than stereotypical alienation.  Seven years before Mortal Shuffle begins, Nathan Wrench was kidnapped by gangsters, tortured and made into a dope addict.  He has never recovered and now his potential is restricted to irritating those around him.  Initially, the bruises he leaves on the world are metaphoric.  Later, the bruises become real.  Resolution happens but readers need to hold their nerve while watching Nathan not just decline but defiantly self-destruct.

Like Hamlet, Nathan not only struggles with his own demons and failure but is also obsessed with the betrayals and corruption of others.  His distaste for normality makes him and the book interesting.

Not every female reader will be sympathetic to Nathan Wrench, although we do understand why Wrench is a selfish, adolescent male.  But Nathan, despite his faults, reminds us of the price of compromise.  The women in Mortal Shuffle are not idealised but neither are the men.  Everyone is either selfish or desperate.

The book is also funny.  The honesty and wit of Nathan ensures readers will want to know what happens with this complex and far from predictable character.  Nathan sidesteps nothing.   Wrench reminded me of Holden Caulfield.  Both men are sharp and have contempt for others.  Mortal Shuffle has violent scenes but do not expect Nathan to describe these with moral disapproval.  For most of the story, Nathan Wrench relishes the damage he creates, and his cynical account makes the violence shocking but also funny.  Mortal Shuffle is the book where James Elroy meets The Catcher In The Rye.

If that sounds fanciful, note that Mortal Shuffle is also literary.  The story moves at a fast pace and the prose is deliberately spare and lean.  But the writing is very elegant. Lawler tells a tale with real style and is often subtle.  The title of each chapter is almost repeated in the first paragraph.  But Nathan is so prickly he even argues with some of the titles.  That might sound weird but the book is not an example of indulgence in experiment, merely original.  The structure of the book is firm and it builds well to a surprising climax from events that, at the beginning of the book, appear inconsequential.   This tale will surprise and satisfy.

By Irene Keith.