Sunday, May 12, 2019

Dragon Marks Eight - a Southwestern noir by Gary Clifton

Greetings, commies!
I have a new gem to share: Dragon Marks Eight by Gary Clifton. I admit that I have not read many noir novels, but this one is so superb from the psychological and literary standpoint, that it will tickle your taste buds and your nerve endings. 

In the mid 1980s, Kobok, a hard drinking, cynical, veteran ATF Agent, is caught between an inept supervisor and a system that demands results to avoid transfer to Butte, Montana, or a duty station where mail comes monthly by tramp steamer. Under the gun to produce a major case, he’s summoned to an arson homicide in an affluent Dallas neighborhood where the only survivor is the ex-stripper wife of the victim, the owner of a brassiere factory.

The ghastly crime scene discloses two pre-teen sons also dead in the debris. Kobok discovers a child’s journal depicting what appears to be a game involving mythical characters and a twelve-sided dice. Thinking it might shed light on lives of a dysfunctional family, he tucks the journal away, but it soon drifts out of mind.

With a rookie agent partner, weeks out of the academy, and Bull Hooper, a hard-nosed, kick-ass Dallas Homicide Detective, he wends his way along the seamy underside of Dallas, through strip clubs, an outlaw biker gang war, a variety of back alley characters, and sudden, deadly violence. In the end, he realizes with sobering clarity that what seems to be, often isn’t, and the journal scribbling of a child exposed to horrors beyond his comprehension, could be more insightful than any reasoning mind could possibly understand.

My thoughts:
The fans of James Elroy and Mickey Spillane should add "Dragon Marks Eight" to their collection of urban noir fiction. There is something to be said for novels set before the era of the internet. There is an extra layer of secrecy and anonymity - and more opportunities for fraud. Kobok is a seasoned but not entirely jaded cop who is not above indulging his own whims and sexual cravings while on duty, a cynic with a conscience. The author's narrative style is blunt, graphic, unapologetically masculine - definitely not for those who have panic attacks when women are "objectified". Definitely not for those who crave a "strong, empowered female character". Although, there is a very competent female forensics doctor, but she is an exception to the pattern. As a female reader, confident in my femininity and human dignity, I don't find that style offensive at all. However, those readers who are sensitive to cruelty to children and description of mutilation should probably take a few anti anxiety pills. There are very graphic scenes of human combustion. Overall, this novel is a decadent, sensual treat - like a good shot of scotch with a cigar.

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