The Bastard Hand - Heath Lowrance

"Helloooooo, niggers!" is always a good way to introduce yourself and greet your audience, especially when you are a reverend and guest speaker in a church. Reverend Childe makes his apparence in true reality TV show style, but this is an incident which clearly shows what kind of person the Reverend is: manipulative and abusive. Alas, this is not about racism, but about control. With a single word, deliberately thrown in the face of his listeners, he controls them, and they react as he expects them to, and wants them to react. With outrage. At first anyway, until he turns his narrative around and wins them over and they applaud and praise him. It´s fascinating to watch the Reverend´s personality unfold that way, as he is - as you might expect - not your typical all smiles and pat on the back reverend with nothing but goodness in his heart. A lying, cheating, drinking bastard son of a reverend with a lot of charisma. A smooth talker with a soft spot for women and alcohol, and some unique interpretations of ´love thy neighbor´.

Charlie is a bit of a misguided soul, nothing sort of naive when it comes to the Reverend, and with some mental problems. It´s not all butterflies in his life. Restless and beaten down until he finds friendship with the Reverend he is on his way to Florida to visit his dead brother - stranger things are happening here than that. Charlie hears his dead brother talking in his head, which is as hilarious as it is touching, as it is not used to denigrate him, but to show a connection that is deeply felt. Charlie however knows he is ridiculous, iE when he is argueing with himself. He is easily used by other people, like Tassie who first mugs him, then uses his muscle for a raid on a drug house to steal money, which goes slightly wrong. Charlie has no problems with killing when the need occurs so he can easily look out after himself too. Pity is not needed, thank you very much.

The first meeting between the Reverend and Charlie is already telling. It starts quite innocently, but then there is this moment when the Reverend references to Charlie´s last name, which he cannot know at this point, and it goes, whoa, something´s not right here, and it isn´t. And what does the Reverend do anyway in the laundromat when he has no clothes to wash? A marvelous story teller the Reverend is too, sob stories a plenty he has to tell but as it is they are probably not true at all. He is just that good.

In Cuba Landing Reverend Childe takes over a church as the new head, since the old one disappeared a year ago. Rumors and rumors of what happened, though. The typical small town where everyone knows everything about everyone, and dirty laundry is washed behind the backs of the not so innocent. Including a lot of laughing out loud moments with the church ladies, who are simply marvelous. They are a bit of a cliche in themselves, but I suspect you can find those do-gooders everywhere in every small town, hence their depiction is almost cruel since they are so real, annoying as they might be.

Now throw in a mysterious woman who is hated by the townsfolk for all the wrong reasons, which are as right in their minds as it could be, and you have a saga of biblical proportions. A revenge story too where everyone has their own vague motivations to try to screw everyone over with all the hypocrisy and small mindness so typical a small town in rural nowhereland. Despite of all the religious undertones, preaching it does not. However, in true old testamentical fashion lives are lost, sex is had, and judgement is spoken by hellfire.

At about 2/3 in the friendship between the Reverend and Charlies comes to an end, and I had to walk away for a bit. I did not like that. I.DID.NOT.LIKE.THAT. Which is as foolish as it sounds as they needed to break up to makes thing right. Still, I wanted them to last, to turn around and the Reverend not being a dick to Charlie. Alas, all hopes abandoned the story moves towards the end game of skeletons unburying and finding rights where previously there were wrongs, upside down as things are.

´The Bastard Hand´ is a gritty psychological psycho-noir tale with some paranormal elements thrown in for good measure, far and beyond conventional reality, but without being paranormal per se, just a cynical life isn´t sunshine and flowers tale. A mystery of pulp fiction with hands down one of the best character developements, and dialogues, one can ask for. Challenging situations to the left and to the right, and how the characters, mainly the Reverend and Charlie, deal with any of it is what makes it so fascinating to watch - and to read of course.

Heath Lowrance is not only a terrific story teller, he is also craftsman of the finest order when reading the book on a sentence by sentence basis. It´s a joy to read, and as already established with ´The City Of Heretics´ he knows a bit or two about human misery and failures of a life time. Just that there is something more to it: he cares, and can redeem and transform the characters via some witty observations in unexpected ways while staying true to the twist-riddled plot and their direction. Everything progress naturally, there is nothing forced, eccentric as some things may be, and this is real marvel of the book.

BUT ... and that is a big but, I suspect Heath Lowrance to be quite a cynical bastard himself. He doesn´t seem to have much love for the small minded ones or the fanatics, and mocks them heavily with every word and action he makes them say or do. A community lost, a relationship beyond repair, the abyss of human misery. Nothing is sacred in his quick witticism, still he can make the most absurd situations turn into something where I as the reader can relate and care myself for what is happening. He sure plays his hands right, and doesn´t let the dice fall where they may.

To what the bastard hand is ... that´s a different story for another time to tell, but what it is for sure, one of the absolute best books I´ve read this year.