DiscoverMystery & Crime

East of Lincoln

By HARLIN HAILEY

Must read 🏆

Lots to like in this why-dunnit – friendship, murder, loss and a lot more.

Synopsis

The year is 2012, the autumn of our discontent. It has been four years since the Great Recession, but anger and heartbreak linger. Against the moneyed backdrop of coastal Los Angeles, a motley crew of unemployed characters is brought together by self-loathing, boredom and defeat. Facing hard times and no prospects, they gather in a run-down apartment to change their fates. But a destructive, nihilistic stranger has other ideas. Ideas that will change their lives forever.

From the award-winning author of The Downsizing of Hudson Foster, comes this contemporary noir tale of desperation, depravity, and murder. This evocative hardboiled whydunit captures the underground mood of those forgotten, and how far they’ll go once they’ve lost it all. Darkly funny, sad and fiercely honest, East of Lincoln explores themes of moral decline, the black heart of the American dream, cultural change, and the enduring power of friendship.

Ideal for fans of neo-noir, Los Angeles, California, Literary Crime/Mystery, dirty realism, James Ellroy, Bret Easton Ellis, Raymond Chandler, Charles Bukowski, and Joan Didion.

Contains strong language for authenticity.

A blind punt on a book or author I had previously never heard of and one that paid off as I really liked this one.


Friendship, desperation, disconnection, loss and a perpetual downward spiral affecting family, job, prospects, hope, possessions - the car and city mobility, home, a viable future, and in the end a best friend.


Our narrator is Richard Jenkins and he tells us of the death of The Artist. The book then backtracks and we have a linear unravelling of the story and how we get to the point of murder.


For much of the book not a lot happens as such, but that's perfectly fine. We get to know the characters, their demons and insecurities, their failures and the back drop of the times. Richard used to work in real estate. Fat chance of that now; he's reduced to humiliating Skype interviews where he has to amuse the interviewee by singing his favourite song. Too old and with no skill set that is relevant to the current day economy. The day before yesterday's man. He trades down from a car to a pushbike to fund a holiday for his college going daughter. Prospects aren't great. His father's health is failing and his friendships are the only crutch supporting him.


His best friend, The Artist, is on his downers as well. He continues to paint, but hasn't sold one in years and is suffering a crisis in confidence. He's painting houses to pay the rent, though on occasions even that's not enough. He has real talent and is easy-going, affable, popular and well-regarded by the locals. Always happy to chat as he works at his easel on the streets.


Into their midst, comes The Artist's neighbour, Bales. Manipulative, bitter, twisted and cruel. Similar story to Richard, or Clean, as he nicknames him - with one major difference. Bales is dark and disturbed. Broken marriage, unemployed and unemployable with rumours circulating about the reasons for his demise - a severe sexual assault/rape which was hushed up. Bales takes everything just that little bit too far... Drinks at a bar - he skips out on the bill; some women celebrating a birthday - he pops all her balloons. Controlling, jealous and scheming, he's on his way down, but determined not to go out alone.


I liked the connections and relationships on show here. Friendships or cliques very rarely seem to be evenhanded or balanced. There's always a more dominant personality, coming to the fore. Here it just gets magnified to the nth degree. If I was picky, I might wonder why Bales was allowed to intrude and invade and ultimately spoil the relationships of the group of friends. In addition to Richard and The Artist, there's the trust fund kid upstairs who is the group's gopher and another, who is the source of the group's weed supply.


There's also a sadness about the outcome. Not just the cruel death of The Artist, just as things were starting to turn for him. The loss for his friends, family, acquaintances and this reader is palpable, even though we know it's coming. I think its more zeitgeist... the ever changing world, re-gentrification and the loss of community, a sense of disenfranchisement and a feeling that there aren't better times ahead. Ironic to think that this takes place during Obama's watch. The spray-tanned orange blimp hasn't exactly changed the narrative.


Lots to like and ponder. The Downsizing of Hudson Foster is Hailey's earlier novel. I may have to check it out.


4.5 of 5

Reviewed by

Blogger, reviewer, avid crime fiction reader and book hoarder

Synopsis

The year is 2012, the autumn of our discontent. It has been four years since the Great Recession, but anger and heartbreak linger. Against the moneyed backdrop of coastal Los Angeles, a motley crew of unemployed characters is brought together by self-loathing, boredom and defeat. Facing hard times and no prospects, they gather in a run-down apartment to change their fates. But a destructive, nihilistic stranger has other ideas. Ideas that will change their lives forever.

From the award-winning author of The Downsizing of Hudson Foster, comes this contemporary noir tale of desperation, depravity, and murder. This evocative hardboiled whydunit captures the underground mood of those forgotten, and how far they’ll go once they’ve lost it all. Darkly funny, sad and fiercely honest, East of Lincoln explores themes of moral decline, the black heart of the American dream, cultural change, and the enduring power of friendship.

Ideal for fans of neo-noir, Los Angeles, California, Literary Crime/Mystery, dirty realism, James Ellroy, Bret Easton Ellis, Raymond Chandler, Charles Bukowski, and Joan Didion.

Contains strong language for authenticity.

The Late Boomers

IT WAS BALES who came up with the plan.

            We'd stage the Artist's death, watch his paintings soar in value, then sell at the peak. It was brilliant, actually. The Artist would get famous, go viral, and we'd all get a cut. Except for the Artist, of course. Or so they’d all think.

            But it didn't work out that way. We never executed the plan, but I know now it seeded something nasty inside that troubled mind of Bales’s. And even to this day, I'm still trying to work through it all. Let alone comprehend it. It's not easy writing about the death of a loved one. But you do the best you can.

            So forgive me, I'm still raw. 

            My real name is Richard Jenkins. But you won't hear it much in this tale. Most of the time they call me Clean. My father is a retired high school principal, my mother a State Farm agent. I grew up in Van Nuys, California, in a nice ranch house in a leafy suburb, and graduated from San Diego State University with a business degree that time rendered moot. Along with silly dreams, girls I’ve loved before, and old tarnished trophies. I'm fifty-three years old now, and I was once a "successful" real estate agent in the San Fernando Valley.

            Now I’m not.

            And that's all you need to know about me. Because for all intents and purposes, I'm invisible. 

            So what do you do when you find yourself on the wrong side of history for the first time in your life? How do you survive? Well, you make decisions. Moral decisions. And then you live with the consequences. That's what you do. That's all you can do. 

            Because for so many years, you had it so good. So good you slept through wars, had sex without condoms, raped the land, and hogged the dream. And then suddenly—bang!—you find yourself at odds with the day at hand. What used to work just doesn’t anymore. So you take a hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask that mediocre reflection, Who the fuck am I? Where do I go from here? And then you realize who you are, where you came from.

            We were the late boomers, born between 1956 and 1965: three-channel kids, told what to watch, how to live, and what to think. 

            We drank the Jim Jones punch. Mastered the fine art of consumption. And now America has left us for dead, our distended bellies rotting on the side of the road, forever jonesing.

            We were going to film the Artist’s death on my iPhone. Dark and grainy, like that Pollock documentary. Have him rant into the camera about how his life had become unmanageable and that the best thing to do would be to kill himself. I suggested a handgun. The Artist had intimated a fondness for pills. But it was Bales who brought the plan down to its base. Suicide was too conventional, he said, too clichéd, and what the public needed was a murder. That's when he pulled the Samurai sword off the mantelpiece. He unsheathed it from the red leather scabbard, dropped down on one knee, and studied its polished blade by the soft glow of firelight. The Artist thought he was joking, but I knew he was serious.

            The sad thing was, I didn’t do a damn thing about it.

            I don't blame myself for what happened to the Artist on the night of December 21, but it still haunts me. These days, I blame the Great Recession. That horrible time of crippling stagnation that left us feeling weightless and hollowed out. I mean, what can I say? It stole our lives, then broke our hearts.

            All you had to do was look around. The signposts of our demise were plain as day. The Artist had become increasingly distant, withdrawn. Some said emotionally unhinged. And then there was Bales, dredging the abyss of cheap alcohol and drugs, an entitled punk looking to save his own ass. He didn't know it then, but he was mining for table scraps from a bygone era—a fruit fly darting from one scheme to another. And me, nothing more than a bald, fragile shell of my former self, philosophically at odds with the decline of the empire. Give me liberty or give me death!

            Those were just words now.  

            I guarantee you this: you take away a man’s rice bowl, and you'll watch him turn into a savage. Watch him descend into hell.

            The story I’m going to tell you is the same story I told the cops. I wasn’t there the night of the murder. But I wish I had been. I would’ve killed the fuck. That’s the cold sound truth. Maybe I should have seen it coming, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway. There wasn't a damn thing I could have done about it. End-of-the-world forces were working beyond my control—beyond everyone’s control.  

            So what follows here is only a fragmented recollection of my own personal fog of war, a hazy recounting of unaccommodated men gone mad. It is often harsh, sometimes brutal, but always honest.

            My father once said, “Everybody’s got a story in Los Angeles.” 

            This is mine.

             

About the author

Harlin Hailey was born in New Orleans and educated at the University of Southern California. Dry humor, a strong social undercurrent, and music and pop culture references often characterize his work. He is the author of the award-winning novel, The Downsizing of Hudson Foster. view profile

Published on October 15, 2019

70000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Mystery & Crime

Reviewed by

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