Simultaneously traditional and groundbreaking. A story populated by flawed and interesting people. Plus bikes. Lots of bikes.
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Russ Day came to the attention of Fahrenheit through their 2017 short story competition that ultimately led to the Noirville anthology. Russ was the overall winner and his story was of such a quality it led Fahrenheit to enquire if there was more where that came from. There was. Needle Song seeing publication was the result of that conversation. And what a result.
I read Needle Song last summer, during the rare heatwave we experienced in the UK (hence the sunny picture with wine glass). It’s a book that deserves love and success and so I’m revisiting for a review now to tie in with #Fahrenbruary. I described the book as simultaneously traditional and groundbreaking. It’s a traditional mystery story, with plenty of misdirection, suspicions thrown on all and a structure with plenty of twists and turns. Russell is clearly fan of the classics and this influence shines through in his writing. Where the story is groundbreaking is in the characters that populate our story. Doc Slidesmith is a self styled voodoo priest biker tattoo artist with a deep sense of loyalty, absolutely zero trust for the police and, underneath his sometimes gruff exterior, a big heart. This, right here, is why I love Fahrenheit, nobody else would give a lead character matching that description a shot. Especially when you get to know how temperamental and difficult he can be at times. In a lot of ways Doc is a hard man to get to know.
Our story follows the case of Doc’s friend Chris who been accused of murdering his girlfriend Jan’s husband, a girlfriend he met on a very adult website. The police aren’t interested in investigating further in what appears to be an open and shut case. Doc however doesn’t believe Chris guilty and takes matters into his own hands, which leads to an ever-expanding cast of character’s with connections back to the deceased
Turns out that Doc is quite the detective, with a talent for getting under peoples skin and understanding their motivations. He’s very good at holding a mirror up to people and not flinching when they do. It’s a skill and at times a burden, it does make those he surrounds himself with at times wary. As with all good mysteries, the real talent in Russ’s writing lies in the character’s he has created and put into this series of bizarre events. To understand the motives, you first need to understand the people. From their perspective, not yours. Empathy may not be a word often used when talking about crime novels, but it’s absolutely central in getting to the heart of a story. And the heart of a case.
Every good detective needs a sidekick too, a Watson to Slidemith’s Holmes if you will. Enter Yakky, Doc’s apprentice – both in the tattoo parlour and whether willingly or not in his detective work too. Yakky is as difficult a person as Doc, in a lot of ways they are as bad each other which makes them perfect for each other. Neither one is afraid to call out the others BS, and that makes for a really interesting team dynamic as the story progresses.
There are plenty of twists and turns to the tale to keep you intrigued, action sequences along the way and so many false turns and twists you won’t know whether your coming or going or what is relevant to the mystery at hand. As always where money is involved, the deceased is a rich man, there are many interested parties and you can never be quite sure who to trust. Written with a fluid and fast paced style, Needle Song will keep you turning pages and guessing till the end.