Sunday, 29 January 2012

A sense of impending doom

Review - A Single Shot, by Matthew F Jones (Mulholland Books, £9.99)

Sometimes you know that whatever you write when reviewing a book isn't going to get anywhere near to doing it justice. And that applies equally to books you love more than, well, maybe not your children, but pretty close, and books that are so bad you'd happily take a scalpel to your brain to erase them from your memory. So I write these words in that knowledge.

I'd not heard of Jones prior to cracking the spine of A Single Shot, although it turns out I was aware of his work, having wanted to watch the movie Deepwater for several years, not realising he wrote the novel upon which it is based.

It's a thing of wonder, discovering an author who writes this beautifully for the first time, more so when you realise there's a skutch of books on his backlist for you to read.

A Single Shot tells the story of a week in the life of John Moon, a lonely, awkward man who's lost his family farm, his wife and child and now earns a crust laying driveways and spending his spare time hunting on the forested mountain where he lives. Out stalking a deer one day, he hears a rustle in the bushes and shoots, a single shot. Instead of a deer, the bullet takes the life of a young woman. Panicking, Moon checks the area - she was holed up in a quarry, and he finds her campground, a stash of drugs and many thousands of dollars in cash.

Moon has a choice - and decides to bury the body and take the cash. He thinks there's nothing to link him to the corpse, and if he possessed a more astute brain, he might be right. But Moon is a simple man, who doesn't always think through his actions. The consequences of those actions bring those who own the drugs and the money after him and soon the hunter is the hunted, having to draw on his survival skills to stay alive. The small backwater town, the forested mountain, the one man trying to stay one step ahead of his pursuers; this has a feel of First Blood mixed with Deliverance, as the net is drawn tighter around Moon.

This is a book about choices, and, as a reader, you can't help but make your own decision as to what you'd have done in a similar situation, not you as you live your life now, but if you were in Moon's shoes, experiencing the shitty life he is. Despite his faults, Moon is an intensely proud man, a man of honour driven to desperate measures by the hand of fate and the dark deeds of those around him.

Jones doesn't waste many words, if any. It's a short book, 240 pages, but it packs one hell of a punch. It gets under your skin; the supporting characters, the town, the mountain itself, but none more so than Moon himself, a superb study of a man who has lost almost everything, but is damned if the bastards are going to take what little he has left.

A fine, fine read. It comes as no surprise that the movie is being filmed - but director David Rosenthal and stars Sam Rockwell (Moon), William H Macy and Forest Whitaker have their work cut out to come anywhere close.