Book Review: Sold by Blair Denholm

Nothing like a bit of noir to make you feel better about your own circumstances…

He and Maddie should simply disappear from the Gold Coast. The gaudy city masqueraded as paradise, but sometimes it was hell on Earth.

Gary Braswell is a ball scratching Gold Coast car salesman, a chain smoking compulsive liar with drinking and gambling habits, and he’s not averse to a bit of illicit drug taking either. His act now, worry about consequences later approach to life have left him in debt to a loan shark, Jocko, whose hired muscle is the worst kind of ex crim. Gary thinks his luck has turned when a wealthy Russian couple buy four cars from him that enable him to pay back his debt to Jocko, but Jocko wants Gary to run a little package to Bali for him as a late payment penalty. If he refuses Gary’s wife will be paid an unwanted visit from Jocko’s muscle.

When it came to heterosexual couples and serious vehicle purchasing Mr usually did the talking and Mrs the listening, and sometimes the eye-batting, lip-licking and hair-twirling. There were rare exceptions, about as rare as Gary tipping the first try scorer. He imagined the ‘work’ the woman referred to might be pole dancing or selling pot.

While Gary’s trying to work out what to do, his wife goes to stay with her mother for her own safety. Meanwhile Gary gets a new job as a real estate salesman chasing bigger returns with his bullshit, and his best mate agrees to help him hatch a plan to get him out of his pickle with the help of the federal police, some of whom are as dodgy as Jocko’s muscle. Of course Gary just ends up in deeper shit involving dodgy money laundering Russians, and his life spirals more and more out of control on sex, drugs and booze.

Snot dripped from his nose. He placed a hand to his forehead. Temperature seemed normal, but his arsehole was red raw. And if that wasn’t enough, the itchy balls were back.

Blair Denholm’s novel published by Clan Destine Press is quintessentially Australian noir with plenty of Aussie expletives. Denholm, who has an interesting past himself, crafts a protagonist who is wholly unlikeable, but redeemed for the reader by his habitual haplessness and a huge dose of gaudy humour. I’m just glad I’m not Gary Braswell’s wife, Maddie.

Gary’s bag of excuses was empty. He stared at Foss and gathered his thoughts. Suddenly his arms and legs started to jerk like Peter Garret at a Midnight Oil concert. In one rapid motion he collapsed and curled his body into the foetal position. He pulled his arms in by his sides and, unseen by Foss, pinched the soft skin on the inside of his bicep, and launched into a juddering, rocking motion. He grunted out primal-sounding noises which soon escalated into unearthly wailing.

Sold is not for the faint hearted, or those who are queasy about body fluids – it’s no cosy mystery – but it is a fun romp of a read if you like a walk on the wild side, and it could make your isolation seem not so bad after all. The sequel, Sold to the Devil is due out soon.

rusted old truck in long grass

A bit of noir

It’s murderously hot today. The thermometer is expected to reach 38 degrees celsius and strong north winds are blowing in from the sizzling centre of Australia. It’s the kind of day that conjures a mood of disorder and threat, like it’s cousin on the spectrum, the chilled isolation of excessive cold climates. Extremes are both thrilling and dangerous.

MoMA, New York City

Humans are so vulnerable to weather extremes yet we have been pitting ourselves against nature infinitum with a naive belief that we can prevail in a moral vacuum where the planet is concerned. My bet is on nature in the long run, if we don’t learn to live more harmoniously with the planet.

For some reason, when the elements are severe my mind wanders to noir at the extreme of crime fiction.  Climate change, like reading noir, summons an inescapable bleakness. Both contain themes where collective denial operates within a prism of political dysfunction and citizen hopelessness. Perhaps it is the existential angst, imbued in the idea that humanity could wipe itself out by failing to take action on climate change, that is nudged whenever the weather gets irritable that makes me draw parallels to noir.

MoMA, New York City

The world of noir is dark, chaotic and alienating, and full of the type of moral ambiguity and hypocrisy that points at human existence and calls it absurd and meaningless. In noir everyone one is imperfect and what is right and wrong are unclear. Noir is complex and messy and has a way of teasing out our interdependence as human beings in the global web of power and influence in which we live. It is much more like real life than cosy crime where the hero prevails unscathed, as if wearing teflon. Noir is saturated with the voices of angry protest against entrenched privilege and systems in which the average citizen feels powerless against inequality and corruption, yet it is often delivered with dark humour.

Wreck

There’s icy Nordic noir like Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg and Fargo by the Coen brothers if you want to cool down, or stories like the shorts in Sunshine Noir by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley to warm up with.

Historically, noir has been dominated by white men but I have noticed that modern noir is increasing in diversity as more women like Clare Blanchard, Nikki Dolson, Saira Viola and Jo Perry (published by Fahrenheit Press) pick up the crime pen.

South Australian Museum, Adelaide

I’m currently reading Mistress Murder by Mark Ramsden also published by Fahrenheit Press (I only recently discovered this small crime publisher with attitude and am looking forward to making my way through their collection). Mistress Murder is the story of Susie Goldy, a transgressive, hedonistic, drug addicted dominatrix trying to get on with her life of mayhem whilst being pursued by an unknown malevolent stalker who has taken umbrage with her and her lifestyle. I’m finding the voice of Ramsden hilarious and the black and satirical take on a subculture most of us would never encounter has me fascinated and cringing in equal measure. Just right for a sweltering afternoon.

What are your favourite noir reads?

Main image: Rusted Out, Yandoit, Victoria