Reviewed by: Keith Nixon
Genre: Noir / Crime / Thriller
Approximate word count: 60-65,000 words
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Joe Clifford is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and managing editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive. He is the author of three books.
You can learn more about the author at his website.
Colin Specter is about to be a teen sensation. He’s just signed a record deal which will see him climb the dizzying heights of fame. However he’s framed by the Christos family for a drugs deal and winds up in prison, in the process mutilated, loses his voice and his girl, Zooey.
Fast forward seven years and Specter is getting out of jail and he’s looking to even the score.
Wake The Undertaker is Clifford’s debut novel. I find that really hard to believe because this is a really well written, hugely compelling story which I struggled to put down and feels like it’s been generated by someone with years of experience under their belt.
When Specter goes into jail he’s a lightweight, when he emerges he’s a different man. Literally toughened and hardened. He’s quickly drawn into what appears to be a gang war within the Christos family. The father (the Old Man) appears to be legitimising himself, now a philanthropist rather than drug supplier, and he’s running for mayor. The son, Gabriel, who was present when Specter was set up, is a mess and spiralling out of control.
There are two aspects that make this book so interesting. First, it’s not a simple case of revenge. For a reason Specter can’t explain to himself he starts to help his tormentor, Gabriel, against the Old Man and we follow him during the journey, as he learns to be someone else. He unravels a mystery whilst fighting for survival and rediscovering himself in the outside world where he’s no longer what he was. Throw in love interest Zooey, who’s also tied up with the Christos’ and it’s a non-stop rollercoaster in the underbelly of Bay City.
Second is Clifford’s voice. The prose and the descriptions used are a really rich tapestry against which the story unfolds. For example Specter has just left jail and is inspecting his new digs:
I took a look at my new home. Nursery blue wallpaper, rotting yellow and brown like lifelong tobacco stains, curling around the edges and peppered with graffiti. A bureau minus three drawers, infested with bugs and butane scars. Carpet worn out in fat swathes. Blood speckles on the ceiling. A sink for a toilet. Places like the Alkan don’t have in-room bathrooms. The can is down the hall and usually plugged by some junkie. So you piss in the sink.
Terse and to the point, which is how I like it. Excellent book, excellent writing. I’d love to say more, but I don’t think I can do Wake The Undertaker proper justice.
Rating: ***** Five Stars