Barry Forshaw 3 January 2012 - 11:12am
Surely everything that can be tried has been tried in the field of crime fiction, down to the last bullet and falling body?
Not quite, as Frank Bill's Crimes in Southern Indiana satisfyingly proves. What we are given here is described by its publisher as ‘hill-billy noir’ (let's ignore the hyphen they've inserted into that non-hyphenated adjective). And if that particular designation doesn't appeal, you are doing yourself a disservice if you avoid the book; this really is something new and exciting in a field that -- it appears -- is still capable of renewing itself.
The setting is the heart of America in the present, struggling to come to terms with the changes and innovations (not all of them welcome) that have come with the modern age. The world that Frank Bill presents for us is a bizarre combination of old and new: modern technology and hi-tech laboratories coexist with dungaree-clad gunrunners and ruthless bare-knuckle fighters.
The dramatis personae whose paths cross dizzyingly in this fizzing book is a memorable one: Scoot McCutcheon’s life is thrown into chaos when his wife becomes terminally ill; Scoot ends up savagely killing her (along with her doctor) and tries to hide in his home town before he decides, it seems, to atone for his crimes.
Or, in another story - this is a collection rather than a novel - a man moves from respectable dog breeding to providing canine candidates for brutal fights, before his destiny intertwines with a Salvadorean criminal and the backwoods drugs trade. And these, amazingly, are two of the least scabrous entries in the collection.
Perhaps the most striking characteristic of Frank Bill’s magnum opus is the surprise that the reader will feel when discovering that -- however outrageous that tale we have just read – the author is able to top it with the next one. It's not a book (as they used to say) for the squeamish, but readers of gamey, pungent crime writing will be in seventh heaven.