Psycho preacher alert: Heath Lowrance’s The Bastard Hand

Ever since seeing Robert Mitchum as Harry Powell in the 1955 classic, Night of the Hunter, I’ve had a thing for itinerant unbalanced evangelical preachers.

Which is one reason I enjoyed Detroit-based writer Heath Lowrance’s debut novel, The Bastard Hand, so much.

The book is narrated by Charlie, a drifter fresh out of a psychiatric care where he was put after killing a policeman. He’s having a few problems adjusting to post-institutional life, little things, like the fact his hands glow with the power of God in the presence of wrongdoers.

After getting mugged within hours of arriving in Memphis, Charlie befriends a Baptist Reverend called Phineas Childe, agreeing to accompany him to the town of Cuba Landing, where the Reverend will be working.

Although Childe is no match for Mitchum’s Powell in the killing stakes, he is nonetheless a lying, drinking, womanizing, sleazy opportunist who manages to be charming and menacing at the same time.

Lowrance takes the reader on a wild ride through the corruption and deceit that bubbles away beneath the surface of Cuba Landing. Along the way we meet some great characters, including a couple of backwoods moonshiners, a bent mayor and his cop flunky, and a stick up gang of crack heads.

The Bastard Hand is by turns a lurid hard-boiled suspense novel and an elegant piss take of evangelical religion and small town mores. The dialogue is great, the build up of suspense leading up to Charlie’s own personal apocalypse, as he refers to it, is for the most part handled well

My only slight criticism is that sometimes Lowrance moves things along a little too fast. Occasionally I had to struggle to keep up with what was real and imagined. Then again, the fine line between reality and fantasy is one of the core themes of The Bastard Hand.

Whatever the case, it’s small beer compared to the book’s abundant strengths.

Australian readers are unlikely to have heard of The Bastard Hand, which was released earlier this year, or its publisher, New Pulp Press, which releases alternative crime fiction of the type we seldom see locally.

That’s as good a segue-way as I can come up with to pimp another New Pulp Press title that’s just been released, Crime Factory: The First Shift.

First Shift contains 28 noir stories from established and emerging authors in the US, UK, South Africa and Australia, including yours truly.

There’s names Australian crime readers may be familiar with, including Ken Bruen (author of The White Trilogy and London Boulevard), Adrian McKinty (Falling Glass), and local writer, Leigh Redhead (Thrill City).

First Shift is also a chance for Australian audiences to check out several members of the new wave of noir writers in the United States who are relatively unknown here, including Hilary Davidson, Dave Zeltserman, Scott Wolven and Dennis Tafoya. South African writer, Roger Smith, whose book Dust Devils I’m currently reading.

The Bastard Hand and Crime Factory: The First Shift are available online and in dead tree book form from New Pulp Press.

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