Even in the grimmest crime fiction, the despicable protagonist is hard to find. I'm not talking here about anti-heroes who kill for vengeance or bad guys who learn in the fading seconds of the third act to do one good thing in their lives. No, I mean the flat-out despicable human being who should be drowned asap.
Frankie Avicious, the lead in Nate Flexer's beautifully ugly first novel The Disassembled Man, is a woe begon guy who divides his time three ways--cutting the throats of of cows about to be slaughtered, writhing in the constraints of a forlorn marriage and sitting in a strip club mesmerized by a lady named Scarlett Acres. Of course his life will soon change. Murder has a way of altering one's lifestyle.
For the first third of the book I felt the presence of Jim Thompson. Nothing wrong with that, the tone and feel of Thomspon are appropriate to the material. But then Flexer gets going on his own and you realize that while he uses the same kind of Swiftian tone Thompson did, every nuance of ugliness writ large--I always had the feeling that Thompson used it as comic relief, a kind of fabulism if you will. Laughing past the graveyard that would all too soon claim you. I don't get that feeling at all with the Flexer novel. At the end of The Killer Inside Me there's the famous prayer that you can dismiss as plaintive self-pity--or see as all of us begging for understanding and forgiveness before the darkness claims us.
The power of this book, and it has considerable power, is that Flexer never apologies for his people or their story. An impressive and imposing debut.