Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: Choice Cuts by Joe Clifford

The stories in this collection now and again flirt with various genres though crime has the upper hand. “Choice Cuts” talks mostly about desperate people who lead desperate lives. Happiness is something that you see in the movies, and not that you read about in books, the author seems to think, and I guess that’s the reason why his heroes find themselves in trouble all the time.

Even though this is not your cliché ridden crime story collection, we do get to meet a lot of sad and deluded people within its pages; I say deluded because they really can’t tell what’s true or false and thus they believe what they want to believe, without stopping to think for a moment that things may not be as they seem. So, a cop kills a man thinking that it was the right thing to do, but that was a mistake; a couple of prisoners create the perfect plan to escape but their reasoning is clouded by mischief, exhaustion and hunger; and a man realizes that “…when it looks too good to be true, it usually is”.

I believe that the best thing about these stories, even though they do contain quite a few twists and turns, are their characters, all of whom seem to be living their personal hell on earth. Ray, in “Nix Verrida” is a veteran whose mind is playing tricks on him; how many and how big we don’t get to know until the end of the story. Jimmy is a writer who’s unable to write anything, while Kitty, his girlfriend is sick of him; his not drinking and not writing. Geiger and Donnie are squatters who have a plan to make it big. And last but not least there’s a man who thinks that Leonardo da Vinci is to blame for all his troubles.

“Is anyone in here psychologically sound?” one could ask. Well, the truth is that most of them are not, and that’s what makes their stories so interesting. It’s as if the author, by telling the reader everything about them, tries to make it clear that what happens to them could happen to anyone. All it takes is a major event, or even a minor one at a critical moment, to change somebody’s life forever.

If you’d ask me to choose a story to call a favourite, I really wouldn’t know which to pick; they’re all bleak, and they all talk about loss in one way or the other. “Rags to Riches” with its final twist took me by surprise; “Nix Verrida” made me feel a real sympathy for its hero; “A Matter of Trust” managed to put me into thoughts about the role destiny has to play in our lives; while “Chain Reaction” came to prove that it’s for the best if we don’t rush to jump into conclusions.

Choice Cuts is one of those rear books that have a lot of stories to tell, but in an almost relaxed, laidback way. The author doesn’t seem to try too hard to impress the reader with his writing, or even with his plots. His narratives are plain and simple, so they stick to the reader’s mind, and they make them feel some kind of connection with the heroes. And, I don’t know why but, this book also reminds me about the golden era of noir fiction; the times when the characters build the stories and not the words; when the dialogues were more vibrant and the heroes simple people, just like everyone else.

Joe Clifford did a great job bringing these heroes and their personal stories to life, so reading this collection proved to be a real joy.

First published in Crime Factory magazine

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