Roachkiller and Other Stories by R Narvaez
When you read a PI novel like those involving Marlowe, it’s not unusual to have someone sneak up on our hero and knock him out with a sap blackjack blow to the back of the head. He never sees it coming and wakes up, stinking with gin and lying next to a dead body. Well, Roachkiller and Other Stories by R Narvaez (Beyond the Page, 2012) managed the same thing for me as a reader (the gin was diluted with tonic and no dead body, fortunately). When you start a book by an author new to you, there’s hope in your heart. Except this time, the experience is quite stunning. Eight of these ten are terrific stories. Even in marginal failure, the stories have a precise narrative economy. All are told in an efficient, stripped-down noir style and embrace the tough side of life with bland acceptance. Whereas others sensationalise for effect, this author gives us unadorned grittiness and leaves any moral judgement to us. One of these stories is original although the author does confess to having tweaked the text of those already published. The only downside to this ebook collection is that it’s short. Except I suppose it’s a good thing that the author left me wanting more.
“In the Kitchen with Johnny Albino” is about life choices. There’s nothing you can do about the basics of biology. If you will insist on sleeping with men and not taking precautions, pregnancy usually follows. The life already tough with one child is about to get tougher with another on the way. So when you’re in that situation, what do you do? You could go back to Puerto Rico or you could take a risk and run a numbers book. That would be empowering so long as the established players looked the other way. This is a pleasingly elegant story about a lady who discovers a strength she’d not expected. We’re left uncertain how it will all turn out but at least satisfied she’s taken the first steps. “Juracán” is the name given to the god of chaos and disorder by the Taino Indians in Puerto Rico. This plot demonstrates the old adage that if you roll with the blows, you arrive at the end of the fight with minimal damage. Of course, this requires you to stay calm when all around you are excited, particularly if there’s a hurricane coming in your direction. The man who earned the name “Roachkiller” is a walking hurricane who learned his lesson well and has no intention of going back to jail. Normally this would mean avoiding the company of other criminals and not committing further offences. This man has a slightly different strategy. “GhostD” captures another life choice. This time we’re travelling with a man who has a desk job with a private security company. He’s got a quiet life dealing with ID theft but then someone has to ask for his help. And one thing just leads to another as the man he’s looking for turns up dead. So what’s a desk jockey to do? “Santa’s Little Helper” reminds us the old established employees are tough and the newcomers are inexperienced, particularly when it comes to running.
“Unsynchronicity” teaches us that when bad stuff happens, it happens and, in short order, it keeps on happening in “Ibarra Goes Down” as a man on a mission to Australia finds an urgent need to defend himself when the fridge door opens. “Watching the Iguanas” takes us into the future and shows us some people still have to live from one drink or one meal to the next. Such a life teaches you to keep going as long as you can and reminds us to carry a snack in case of need. “Rough Night in Toronto” shows us a future in which androids get to play an active part in life. Little changes when it comes to criminal activity except they’re harder to kill. Finally, “Zinger” has a different take on an execution that doesn’t quite work out the way everyone expects. Taking the overview, Roachkiller and Other Stories is a finalist for the International Latino Book Award for Best eBook – Fiction and well worth reading if you enjoy stories with a noir edge and a sometimes vicious sense of humour.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.