Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Book Review: 'Hairspray and Lighter' by J. Jupes
‘You’re in the grip of death fear. I have the same thing, death fear.’
British author J (for Johnny) Jupes falls into that fascinating world of unclassifiable authors: his genre embraces mystery (as suggested by his series designator ‘The Detectives That Don’t Fit’) and humor and off the wall verbiage that is a pure delight to read. According to Jupes, he writes ‘pulp and dystopian novels and likes having a cover image in front of him before even thinking about the first word. Raised by a strict English playwright, Jupes can't stomach convention.’ And to say more would distract form the experience of reading his well-crafted novel HAIRSPRAY AND LIGHTER.
Yes there is a story amidst all the wild writing but it takes a bit to crawl into the tunnel of words and once acclimated to the writing style the story gains impact. For starters, the opening language is as follows: ‘Dawn yielded, flooding west over Houston like blood backtracking into the gray dope filling that morning’s syringe. Trap Boy stood, frozen, arm raised, mouth open, a prehistoric peat man, until the blue and white Volare made its turn onto B and everything began to move, him cawing No-Joke, No-Joke, No-Joke, the other mad hatters joining in, all of them trolling the east side between 2nd and 3rd. The car’s windows were rolled down. Two blueberries slumped in their seats, staring ahead, listening to brand names, Cash, Chinatown, Poison, echo through gutted space. Something was happening that wouldn’t happen again; the air was torn, and no one had a clue what just spilled out the gash; the city, a rat’s whisker away from shattering. The RMP cut across the next intersection; a few feet over on 4th, bucket hats, hoodies, Adidas, all lined up behind the jagged hole sledge hammered through a bombed-up cinder block wall. Framed inside was the head of Benji, fourteen, price tag swinging off the side of his Knick’s cap. Benji handed a glassine envelope to a man in a wheel chair, the line nudged forward. Next block, a torn tan polyester suit pushed his way out two cracked glass double doors reflecting the RMP’s skewed white stripe, frosted red bulb over the frame making it for after-hours. The suit spun, plastered, already falling, fell, flat on his face; the officers catching salsa pop before the doors pulled shut. Then a sloppy fist fight, nothing serious; and on that corner, a single soul was tilted, a hand floating in front of his face, eyes closed. The smell of coffee and fresh bagels blew through the car before it made a right onto 14th; slowing in front of a sooty walk-up, sandwiched between two other sooty walk ups. The driver lit his last Chesterfield of the shift.’
So where does this take us? To an ingenious murder story that focuses on hairspray and
butane lighter. Or as the synopsis suggests, ‘All Detective Eckerly wanted to do that day was place a bet on a horse. He didn't expect Darlene Johnson to walk into his office with her chocolate box. And certainly didn't expect what followed. . .
Once adjusted to the writing style Jupes is refreshingly different. Let’s see where he will take us next!
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.