We here at the main offices of All Due Respect Books in lovely downtown Modesto, California, are so fucking proud to release Uncle Dust, the debut novel of the gritiest of the gritty, lowliest of the lowlifes, the darkest of the freaking noirmeisters: Rob Pierce. Yay. Get it here now.
Uncle Dust is something of a throwback – a straightforward tale in which the criminals are portrayed as working stiffs whose only saleable skills are robbing banks or collecting on usurious loans. It reminds me of the work of Cornell Woolrich or David Goodis. Pierce’s characters are fully realized and entirely believable. His dialog is tight and remarkably straightforward for noir, a genre in which duplicity is normal and characters often lie – even to themselves – or speak at cross purposes.
If you are looking for maximum body count, this is probably not the book for you: there are only two deaths in the entire 372 page novel. Mostly what Pierce gives you is a clean, simple tale told in language as terse as a rap sheet about a tough guy in a situation where being tough not only doesn’t help, but actually makes things worse.
The book is full of sharp observation served up in laconic prose. Unlike some hardboiled writers, Pierce doesn’t overdo the criminal argot or wise-ass gibes. The words he puts into his characters’ mouths ring with authenticity and have that twist of graveyard humor you often encounter in men who find themselves living just this side of desperation.
For example, Dust tells us his long-time friend and “business” associate Rico avoids classy watering holes because “the drinks cost more, and the women all say no.”
At one dive, Dust says, “the bartender was a surly old guy with a pocked face, blond hair, and a Hawaiian shirt. I guess the surfing career didn’t pan out.”
He describes that bar, Sparks, as the kind of place frequented by serious drinkers who don’t waste their time picking tunes off the jukebox or tossing darts at a target while their Guinness goes flat: “I hadn’t been to Sparks in months, but it was exactly how I remembered it. Grunt workers straight off eight- or ten-hour shifts sitting near the door, like they couldn’t make it any farther, putting down everything they could as fast as they could and if a fight came their way they wouldn’t mind it.”
“I’d never seen a fight in Sparks, though,” he continues. “Unless you wanted one there was no reason to talk to those guys, and they only talked to each other. I was looking down the bar at the grunts, and I turned back to look at Rico and he must have been looking down there too. We both grinned. If we wanted we could clear that end of the room in a couple of seconds. So dumb, thinking about shit we didn’t even want to do. We both laughed, and I waved to the surly surfer for another round.”
For criminals of this class, alcohol is a staple and bars like Sparks are a place to hatch schemes, split the swag and shoot the shit. The problem for careerist drinkers, Dust notes, is the price they pay the following day. But, he goes on, “A man who can’t work with a hangover shouldn’t have a job.”
William E. Wallace, from his blog Pulp Hack Confessions