Nine Toes In The Grave
By Eric Beetner126 pages
(All Due Respect Books, Oct. 30, 2015)
In Nine Toes in the Grave, the ultra-prolific Eric Beetner’s latest, Reese, our protagonist, is having a bad day.
He’s framed for murder, tricked into a crooked car repossession racket and stuck with a dead drug trafficker and the dealer’s stash. All he needs to make things perfect is a run-in with corrupt cops. Needless to say, he gets one.
Eric Beetner writes so many stories, novels and novellas, he
will soon need his own wing in the Library of Congress
Reese is trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but circumstances won’t let him. He is boxed in by a series of murders, including two he commits himself despite his best effort to steer clear of crime. Nothing and no one can be trusted. Opportunities are illusory. What seems to be genuine is either fiction or a trap.
He runs, with no goal in mind but getting at least 50 miles away. That’s just enough breathing room to figure out what to do next.
The problem is, nobody will let him. Those 50 miles may as well be one thousand. Everything Reese does gets him in more trouble. Every step gets him nine times closer to the grave in the book’s title. A seemingly meaningless phrase that is as random as the events that put Reese in jeopardy.
In some ways, Beetner’s book bears a passing resemblance to The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain’s noir masterpiece.
The main difference is that Beetner’s book is more violent by far, and his protagonist’s future is bleaker. There is a brutal twist to the story that gives it a hardboiled edge Cain’s tale lacks. The reader may see it coming, but it is satisfyingly perverse nonetheless.
This is a non-nonsense noir with an existential edge. The story is told in a terse, straightforward fashion that moves right along. The language is raw and tough, right from the second paragraph in which Reese says, “I was working in a diner, the kind they used to call a greasy spoon. We had the greasy fork and knife, too. But it was no sweat to me—I didn’t own the place.”
When the first violent death occurs--and it happens so suddenly and unexpectedly it will take your breath away--it sets his flight in progress. As he flees, you can smell Reese’s fear along with the stale reek of his dishwasher’s funk. You can feel the sweat that plasters his T-shirt to his back, the tremor of his knees as he tries to outrun his fate.
This is good stuff—maybe as good as it gets. Nine Toes in the Grave is a perfect way to kick off 2016.