Review: Low Down Death Right Easy by J David Osborne

J David Osborne’s Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit was a fine collection of strange stories from a young writer with obvious talent, both in his ideas and prose, and automatically sent his second novel (Low Down Death Right Easy) to the top end of my To-Read list.

It concerns two main stories that are only ever really linked by small things – paths briefly crossed, unpleasant finds, decisions made. Danny Ames is a thug who when he’s not getting money out of people who cross his path with his fierce partner Beck works as a bouncer at a nightclub. Then there’s Sepp and Arlo Clancy. Arlo is a straight arrow married, with hints of a wilder past, facing the daily horrors of serving the general public (and their stupid demands), while his younger brother Sepp is an ex-con on parole trying to make ends meet. Arlo and Sepp’s already fractious relationship is tested even further when the two men are fishing for catfish in a local river they find a severed head. Meanwhile, Ames is on the lookout for his brother, who wanted to be a teacher but has gone off-the-rails and can no longer be found anywhere. Add a dash of noir to this brew, and let’s just say things don’t really end well for everyone.

Osborne’s novel takes the standard tropes of noir – missing brothers, shady criminals, run-down bars, criminal heists – and makes something new and strange out of them. The prose has a ultra-lean, neutral feel to it, with naturalistic dialogue, which gives more weight to the moments of oddness that pepper the narrative (Danny’s habit of spitting teeth after indulging in moments of violence, Arlo’s nightmares about the severed head, the strange albino who frequents Arlo’s local bar). It’s a real work of quality, although I did have one caveat that occasionally jarred me out of the story. The lean nature of the prose leaves readers to fill in the gaps, but sometimes it goes too lean – at least, in my humble opinion. During odd moments, I felt forced to re-read lines because Osborne had seemingly written around the action, leaving only the aftermath. This might have been the writer’s intention, but it jarred for me – though others might not have any issue with this at all. However, this was my only caveat with an otherwise impressive and compelling novel. I’m already looking forward to his next one – Black Gum Godless Heathen – as this one comes highly recommended.

Review: Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit by J David Osborne

J David Osborne has become a player in crime fiction circles over the last few months. From out of nowhere, it would seem. But, as is always the case with these things, the reality is rarely how it might first seem. True overnight success is rare – it usually involves years of struggle and masses of talent (Osborne certainly has that in abundance). His highly lauded crime novel Low Down Death Right Easy got itself on several best of year lists, which means the guy can write! And this might have been enough for most people, but Osborne has also started Broken River Books, a small independent press, whose novels include Peckerwood and The Least Of My Scars (both of which have received glowing reviews from yours truly), meaning his judgement is also spot-on.

Our Blood In Its Blind Circuit is published by Broken River, and is a collection of Osborne’s short fiction. Most of the stories have both feet firmly in surreal territory (Kafkaesque in some cases, and like hallucinatory American writer John Hawkes in others). Bleak black humour abounds, as do massive and radical disjunctures from traditional storytelling, in tales that effortlessly straddle the worlds of nightmare and reality. Whether it’s two corrupt Mexican police officers obsessed with dark magic in the title story, the nightmarish western Amends Due, West of Glorieta, or the strange and compelling tale of drug dealers, police and a man whose body is inhabited by a lot of very unwelcome guests in The Thick Fog Of The Alabaster Mountains, these tales meld body horror, grim violence, ethereal strangeness, altered realities and strange black humour. The tales glitter brightly in clipped, clear prose before burning away just as vividly like flies in a zapper. Other tales that made a strong impression were Imprinting and the superb Three Theories on The Murder of John Wily, which reminded me of Jorge Luis Borges in the way it was structured and written.

I haven’t read Osborne’s Low Down Death Right Easy yet, but it has just leaped into the top five of my To-Be-Read list. If it’s as assured and confident and fucked-up as the tales in this fine collection, then it’s going to be a damn fine read. Highly recommended.