When petty scumbag Terry Hickerson sleeps with the Sheriff Jimmy Mondale’s wayward daughter, he’s inviting trouble. Mondale is very tight with Chowder Thompson, a meth kingpin and ex-biker. So tight, in fact, that they run all the organised crime in their little town in Missouri – and it really wouldn’t take that much for them to make a creep like Terry disappear. But Mondale has more important things on his mind: namely a smarmy DA who’s looking to make a name for himself by taking down Thompson and the Sheriff. But when tragedy strikes, Mondale’s once sound judgement goes out of the window and he hunts down Hickerson with the intention of killing him, and Thompson realises that maybe it’s time to break up their partnership and get out of town once-and-for-all.
Regular readers know how highly I rated Ayres’ Fierce Bitches – a highly ambitious and linguistically stunning novella set mostly in a small Mexican hell-hole. So how do you follow up such a cracker? In a sense, by not following it up at all. Peckerwood is as different from Fierce Bitches as chalk is from cheese. The writing is lighter and looser than the dense, poetic language used in last year’s novella, the tone is funnier, although there’s plenty of darkness in there too, and the characters have a bit more space to live and breathe and bounce off each other.
As the betrayals and blackmails and murders mounted up, Peckerwood began to remind me of a Jim Thompson small-town thriller. In fact, Sheriff Mondale could have been written by Thompson, which is as high a compliment as I can give, because, frankly, the guy wrote brilliant corrupt law officers (read Pop. 1280 and Killer Inside Me, should you have any doubts). But Chowder and Hickerson are both equally well written – Ayres writes very good scumbags, by the way – and the narrative paths that they take feel right. He also has complete mastery over the story and it never feels rushed or forced.
Peckerwood is, in its own way, as impressive a performance as Fierce Bitches, and Jedidiah Ayres is now up there on my small but growing list of new writers whose work I will snap up on the first day of release. Highly recommended.