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by Jim Nisbet
Overlook Press, January 2013
160 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 1590201957

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This reissue of Jim Nisbet's 1987 cult classic is about as noir as it gets. This is the story of a well-meaning but weak man's descent into a hell of sociopathic violence, ugly sex, drugs and drink at the very bottom of the sink of American society.

Doctor Franklin Royce is a failure. His medical practice has all but collapsed under the pressures of an ongoing failure of a loveless marriage to a psychotic wife and his use of drink to blot out the misery. To earn enough to support both lifestyle and habit he takes a job as medical supervisor at the notorious Huntsville Prison where one of his duties is overseeing executions by means of lethal injection the preferred and 'humane' Texan choice for legal killing.

While dealing with a young black man convicted of the brutal murder of a woman cashier during a robbery, Royce becomes convinced of the man's innocence. The execution over, he manages to get hold of prison records which show a classic lack of correct police procedure and the casual racism that led to the death cell.

Despairing of his own inadequate life he decides to quit everything and drives to Dallas to try to prove his theory. There, despite his intentions, his own weaknesses betray him and pitch him into a chamber of horrors from which he cannot escape. To reveal more of the plot, or the shocking climax of this tour through each one of the circles of hell, would be unfair. The book is short, brutal and nasty but once you have picked it up you will be forced by its sheer never-ending horror to keep on reading. Nisbet's world is desolate, his characters with hardly a saving grace between them, but it is unfortunately frighteningly real and addictively sinister.

Despite all this, Nisbet's use of language is magnificent, at times almost poetic and together with some sharp humour serves to at least partly lighten and illuminate this ghastly tale. It's not bedtime reading and some readers will not enjoy this roll in the slime at the very bottom of life's gutter, but if you've a strong stomach and a not too vivid imagination this will keep you riveted.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, February 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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