City of Heretics - Heath Lowrance

Crowe is an ageing conman, a hand for the mob, just getting out of the joint after seven years when a beating he offered, and which was gladly taken, went wrong. Now free, he wants to settle old scores, and while Memphis has changed, Crowe has not. Or not a lot anyway. Gone a bit soft maybe, still rough around the edges, but going 50 is nothing for pussies. Crowe is not an anti-hero who stumbles reluctantly into situations where the light doesn´t shine, he just does what needs to be done. Not a man of many words he is - despite being the baddest of asses, or because of it? - quite the memorable character.

It doesn´t need much for Heath Lowrance to make a character study out of Crowe when layers of layers of motivations are getting pulled back and Crowe is laid bare until there is nothing left to burn but a church. And maybe, but only maybe, his soul as well. 

City Of Heretics is a no-nonsense, no-bullshit novel. Crime? Pulp fiction? I just call it Noir, and call it a day. Short (OK, it isn´t really that short), fast and mean it doesn´t take a beating, even Crowe himself takes a lot of those. He gets shot, knifed, but the bastard is too narrow-minded, call it focused if you must, to give up and forces himself - and the narrative - up and forward every single time something bad happens to him. Which is, as you may have guessed already, often.

As interesting as Crowe are the side characters, like Radnovian, a cop and a functioning heroin addict, or another cop, Wills, who is maybe the most insane of all. They represent the grey areas, the conflicts within themselves, and as everyone they are neither good guys or bad guys, but skid around the edges of what serves their needs and interests.

Crowe is forced, and paid, by his new gangster boss to take out a serial killer who years ago killed his wife. Alas, the police knew that Peter Murke has many more victims under his belt, but for what they can nail him is the death of a teenage girl via DNA evidence. When Murke is transfered for his mental evaluation Crowe and his thugs are trying to kill Murke, which goes almost comically wrong. Which leads Crowe to dug into the life of Murke rather forcefully since his boss is not exactly happy with it. He wants Murke dead, no matter what it takes.

Leads after leads turn up, until Crowe stumbles upon some Christian fringe group.

The Church Of Christ The Fisher takes the Old Testament, the Good Book, a tad too literal, and kills those they deem sinners. Nothing wrong with that in their eyes, since no bad deeds shall go unpunished in the name of love. The fringe group is run by a smooth-talking snake oil sales man, someone to slick to get a proper hold on, and his "sacred executioners". A bunch of psychopaths and serial killers who were given a meaning in their lives. As every time with fundamentalist extremists they follow the ´do as I say, not as I do´ approach, and their standards who needs killing are rather ... interesting. Of course they tell themselves a lot of BS, but I am not one to take it as a derogatory description of any kind. They are evil, and they know it, but they don´t really accept the truth of it.

The violence in City Of Heretics is graphic, fast and furious and honest to its purpose, and the intensity especially in the first half of the book a killer. For some reason the heat gets a bit lost at the end of the book, and Crowe is asking himself the one, important question, as I did myself. Could it really be that easy? Hint: nope.

The city of Memphis, or rather the ugly underbelly of it, is filled with violence and characters who take what they want, and the absence of any kind of straight good guys is remarkable. Every one is a con, and a thug. I like the descriptions of the city life a lot. It came alive on the page, and for most of the time I imagined the book in black/white due its nice retro feeling. Some old fashioned tough guy novel, but it ain´t personal, is all. It´s a great dark mixture of a city which is as important as a character, as the characters themselves. Their motivations, their approach to the dark sides of life, their crimes. Lowrance shines a light onto the ugly truth of them, and no one escapes unharmed.

Admittedly I had some problems at times to follow the dialogues especially, since the slang is thick and their accent not something I´m familiar with. I was sure the joke´s on me, since a lot of times Lowrance doesn´t follow any kind of established rules and conventional English. Which, however, is not a complaint of my part, but gives me an excuse to reread City Of Heretics at some later date. While not always easy to follow the dialogues gives the character the right flavor, the spice which makes the narrative enjoyable to its limits. 

The interaction at the end of the book between Crowe and Murke has fascinated me the most. Murke, a serial killer, seems almost shy, childish and very boylike. I saw the glimpses of a different Murke. Someone he could have been, if not for .. I don´t know, the circumstances of his life, or if he would have gotten some real help when needed the most. It was touching how vulnerable Murke was, still I had to remind myself that he was an evil fuck.

And here lies the real strength of Lowrance´s writing. He doesn´t paint over anyone with a broad brush of black, even at the core most characters are simply unredeemable. There is not anyone, really, to root for, but that´s somehow the reason which makes those people, and the narrative itself, so terrific. Heath Lowrance seems to be someone with a great understanding of flaws, human misery and that life isn´t fair.

Sadly, the e-book version is not without flaws. Mistakes happen, no denying, but it has bugged me a lot when first time POV slips into a third person POV sentence and does so rather frequently, and kicked me out of my reading flow. In this day and age where master files can easily be corrected the publisher may want to take a cold, hard look if it is really in their, and the author´s, best interest to let those errors stand as they are.