A few days ago, the author of Psychosomatic, Anthony Neil Smith, made downloads of the kindle version free for forty-eight hours on Amazon. Since I’m always looking for new things to review at the HQ, and since “free” is a bonus point, I snatched up the electronic version of his book (first published in 1995). I finished reading it last night and all I can say is: “Wow”.
I don’t think I’ve ridden a literary roller coaster of this magnitude since I jacked into a Joe Lansdale novel twenty years ago. What can you say to any book which begins with:
Because Lydia didn’t have arms or legs, she shelled out three thousand bucks to a washed-up middleweight named Cap to give her ex-husband the beating of his life.
I just kept on reading and wondered when I could get off the bus.
Everything we need to know about Psychosomatic is contained in the first sentence. It opens with quadriplegic Lydia paying the boxer to beat-up her ex. But the shake-down goes bust when the boxer accidentally kills him. All of which is captured on a cheap video camera by a loser named Alan Crabtree, a wasted gambler and small fixer for southern-fried mobsters. Crabtree makes the mistake of his worthless life by taking the video to Lydia and showing her the tragic results. Lydia decides he’s just what she ordered and starts molding him into a master criminal. And things just get worse from there on.
The action isn’t merely confined to Alan Crabtree and Lydia. The author tosses in a pair of car thieves, Terry and Lancaster, who resemble frat boys. Terry is smooth and can talk his way out of any situation. Lancaster uses brute force whenever the need arises. They are introduced into the story via a Monte Carlo sedan Crabtree buys from the duo. Together they travel up and down the highway looking for abandoned cars to steal. But suddenly Lancaster has an epiphany and turns into a psycho killer.
I will say the author writes movingly about the New South ( I think we are on the 8th or 9th one). The criminals travel through a landscape of convenience stores and backwoods dead ends. Smith hails from this area, so he writes with conviction:
This part of town was crowded with chain restaurants, motels, small businesses falling apart from the signs to the paint jobs to the bad parking lots, lot of trouble making kids out wandering the streets trying to look like gang members even though the kids were scared of the real thing if they were to see them. It wasn’t touristy New Orleans, the sprawling underclass suburbs, sinking into the Gulf of Mexico at the same rate as the rest of the city.
This novel is set in Jim Thompson territory: there’s hardly a sympathetic character in it. None of the them are admirable, just pathetic. They’ve made their choices in life and taken it on the jaw. But there isn’t much escape from this nightmare alley. The book also has one of the most gruesome rape scenes I’ve ever encountered. It’ll stay with me for a long time (which I suspect was the intent). The novel ends with a viscous conclusion where the guilty get paid in heaps. Not for those with tender feelings.
Psychosomatic is a book of revenge, escape, and criminal minds. Read it at your own risk.