As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion.
Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction.
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Published by No Exit Press, 23 February
2017. ISBN: 978-1-84344-987-4 (HB). 978-1-84344-986-7 (PB)
Sometimes it's not easy
to discern an author's intention when he or she set out to write a particular
novel. I wasn't quite sure whether Michael Farris Smith had written a crime
novel, or a piece of literary fiction with a nod to crime.
Desperation Road is a crime novel insofar as crimes
take place, and have already taken place before it begins. It's also a crime
novel in terms of man's inhumanity to man, and perhaps more specifically to
woman. But in terms of bad guys committing crimes and good guys ensuring that
they get their comeuppance, which is many people's definition of a crime novel,
the jury is still well and truly out.
The set-up in brief: Russell Gaines is just out of prison,
having served his time for what is slowly revealed as drunk driving which
resulted in a death. His victim's brother, a nasty piece of work with a history
of domestic abuse and violence, is after vengeance, but Russell just wants to
get on with his life. In a second plot strand, Maben and her daughter Annaleee
are on the run from someone or something unnamed. Maben is picked up by a
corrupt cop who rapes her and calls his friends to come and do the same; she
escapes, grabs his gun, shoots him and runs as fast as she can.
So who are the bad guys here? Technically Maben is guilty of
murdering a cop, and Russell has killed someone's brother. But it's not that
As he brings the two plot strands together and explores the
rights and wrongs of both situations, Farris Smith creates a vivid and
saddening picture of life at the bottom of the heap. The Mississippi town where
Russell lives and Maben ends up is drab and run down; Maben's life has been a
catalogue of bad relationships and dead-end jobs, with Annalee its only bright
spot. The light at the end of this downbeat tunnel isRussell's father, content in his retirement
beside a fishing lake, willing to provide a lifeline and ray of hope, and by
far the most sharply drawn and sympathetic character in the book.
Their story is told with an intensity and attention to
detail that brings their world to life; and it's plain were the reader's
sympathies are meant to lie. But it has no satisfying conclusion; the reader is
left wondering, along with the protagonists, themselves, what will happen to
them: a feature, surely, of literary fiction which attempts to portray a form
of reality, rather than the triumph of good over evil theme of crime fiction.
Michael Farris Smith
is a native Mississippian who has spent time living abroad in France and
Switzerland. He is the recipient of the 2014 Mississippi Author Award and has
been awarded the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Arts Fellowship, the
Transatlantic Review Award for Fiction, and the Alabama Arts Council Fellowship
Award for Literature. His short fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart
Prize and his essays have appeared in The New York Times, Catfish Alley,
Deep South Magazine, and more. He lives in Columbus, Mississippi, with
his wife and two daughters.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer
ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories,
reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to
the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have
launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of
rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime