23rd April 2017
Gallows Drop by Mari Hannah, crime thriller set in Northumberland (“a real hanging suspense”) ...
A venal, yet at time darkly humorous novel that plumbs the visceral recesses of human life. Jerry Dresden is a child of the early 80s, who has been severely bullied at school. At the age of 10 his little sister is diagnosed with leukaemia and passes away just as he is emerging into his adolescent years. He loses not only his sister but also his father, a PR in the Hollywood film industry. His mother is an expert on the life of Joan of Arc, and a seminal moment comes in his life – early in the book – when he clubs his Mother with her dildo.
The profound loss suffered in his early teenage years is plugged by an ever increasing interest in pornography and sex. Astutely observed, this activity is indeed “a cover for your misery“. His early experiments escalate until it all “begins to snowball” out of control. This is sexual addiction writ large, compounded by psychosis. Jerry is an increasingly isolated young man, stuck at the emotional age of early adolescence, when the traumas in his life took place. Soon he finds that he is accompanied by Epiphany who is a charismatic flesh and blood character yet at times an ingnis fatuus (IF) who guides, harasses and cajoles him …. Even she is not free of his sexual predation.
A van Gogh painting is missing and the finger of culpability is soon pointed at Jerry.
This is a strong and at times shocking read, that challenges, and leads the reader into a world that could be starkly drawn by the medieval artist Hieronymus Bosch, where anything is possible, where people are trafficked, abused and misused. Not a lot has changed in the intervening centuries it would seem. And yet, there is black humour which relieves the bleak and complex meanderings of a deeply troubled man navigating his way through life. It is a struggle to really like him, as the self referring chaos that accompanies his life is hard to stomach – take his response to the news that an orphanage has burned down, to which he replies that that is like Disneyland compared to his life; or that he dabbles with under age prostitutes.
In search of a video tape, which hopefully will exonerate him from a murder charge, Jerry sets off in the company of his female IF, Epiphany, from the West Coast of America towards Mexico. Jerry makes for an absurd sight in his My Little Pony T-Shirt, but this is a novel of the absurd. From there it is on to Porto in Portugal, where he meets Bela and then further on to the South of France.
The history of Joan of Arc is integral to the narrative – a woman who was revered and reviled, people either loved or hated her. The women in “Epiphany Jones” are used and abused but can also be sage and insightful in the eyes of this one man, who weaves in and out of reality. Women were horrifically burned at the stake in the 15th century of Joan of Arc, and contemporary chronicler and artist of the time Hieronymus Bosch imaginatively recorded the horrors of life and from his own (psychotic?) imagination. Today women are just skewered in other ways. This is not a novel for those who are uncomfortable with scenes of violence and a sexual nature.
Over on our blog we chat to the author about trafficking, Cannes, writing and more…..