Friday, April 9, 2010

Nobody's Angel by Jack Clark (Hard Case Crime)

It's another self-publishing success story — 14 years after the fact. Author Jack Clark was nominated for the Shamus Award for his 2002 professional debut Westerfield's Chain. But back in 1996, he was still a beginning writer making ends meet by driving a cab in Chicago.

Following the old advice of "write what you know," Clark set his first novel Nobody's Angel in and around the Chicago taxicab community. Then, with apparently a good head for cross-merchandising as well as a talent for fiction, he printed up 500 copies and sold them for five dollars each to his fares.

When Clark first sent Nobody's Angel to Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime for a possible reprint, Ardai had low expectations due to its self-published history. But it far exceeded his expectations, and now it's available again, for only three dollars more than the first edition.

Someone is killing cabbies and hookers. Though his fares assume he must be, Eddie Miles isn't all that worried about it. But Eddie doesn't worry about much, content to prowl the streets of Chicago in his hack, and even "go south" (to the rougher sections of the city) if it pays. The murders affect Eddie personally when a friend of his is one of the victims (Eddie was the last to see him alive), and again when his headlights discover a teenage prostitute left to die in an alley trash pile. Her name is Relita, and Eddie becomes her reluctant "angel," going to visit her at the hospital since her doctor says she only lights up when he comes. But, like the title says, Eddie is Nobody's Angel, not even his own.

Nobody's Angel is a little thin on plot, but it's definitely noir through and through. The main thing that keeps the pages turning is Eddie himself. He's intensely likable, even with his flaws, and it's a treat to watch his day to day existence as a cabbie. Clark makes every passenger an individual. Whether they're flirting with Miles, pranking him, or asking too many questions, they're all equally memorable, and Clark's confident style flows easily across the page.

I don't want to get into this too deeply, at the risk of revealing too much — spoiler warning? — but Eddie's likability actually fooled me. I thought he was something that he isn't. This made the ending seem ultra dark and somewhat disappointing, since I had invested so much in his decisions up to that point.

In retrospect, however, Clark is entirely true to his character. My surprise was due to my own wishes and expectations. Consequently, Nobody's Angel was a powerful read in addition to a well-written one, and it still has me thinking about it. I'm not sure yet how I feel about it, but I know that its effect on me alone qualifies it as a great achievement.


David Cranmer said...

Dynamite cover as always and on my list to read. I have so many Hard Case in my TBR stack. (Just finished The Valley of Fear)

Thanks for the review.

Craig Clarke said...

You're welcome. I'm always glad to increase the size of somebody's TBR pile.

It makes mine feel not quite so overwhelmingly large. :)

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