(Reviewed by Guy Savage AUG 26, 2006)
“Where I’m going to from here, you don’t want to go. Believe me.”
For those who like their noir fiction dark, gritty and intense, the stunning crime novel, Boot Tracks by Matthew F. Jones is a gripping page-turner. Racking up a deceptively slim 206 pages, this novel delivers a simple story woven with layers of psychological complexity. The novel’s protagonist, ex-con Charlie Rankin is released from jail and travels directly to a fleabag motel. He’s there to commit a murder at the behest of a manipulative prison cellmate “The Buddha”—a man who believes that morality and law are just humanity’s failed, pathetic attempt to raise itself above other forms of life. “The Buddha” rationalizes his actions by arguing “so we invent laws for ourselves we think we will distinguish us.” With Buddha’s orders to kill a total stranger on his brain, the emotionally disconnected Rankin hits town with “no plan, no firm intent, and a sketchy idea” of how to commit the crime.
Rankin strikes up a bizarre relationship with an ex-porn star—a grubby nymphet with a “permanently stunned look” named Florence. While she claims some sort of mystical connection to religion, her beliefs are muddied by her narcotic addiction, and her former career in numerous tawdry films. The morally bankrupt Rankin doesn’t have any tolerance for religion, and he views emotion and introspection as weaknesses. Somehow Florence—another one of life’s washed up, washed-out rejects has retained an iota of trust and faith in her fellow human beings—whereas Rankin’s creed borrowed from Buddha is: “Open up to no one, and leave no trace of yourself.” Rankin and Florence have both learned to project their fractured personalities into different zones of existence—Florence through her role-playing in porn films, and Rankin by creating an alter ego in order to escape a horrific childhood of constant brutality.
Rankin doesn’t question the morality of his plan to kill a total stranger—after all “stealing one thing was like stealing another: a pair of sneakers, a car, a life.” Although Rankin is long past the point of morality, he shows flashes of humanity at the oddest moments. The novel explores Rankin’s Proustian psychological journey through "involuntary memory"— and these childhood memories--usually triggered by acts of violence--offer insight into Rankin’s damaged soul. But the memories are clouded with illusions and fantasies, and even Rankin isn’t quite sure exactly what exists in his past. As Rankin undertakes his mission to kill, he experiences numerous semiotic nightmarish events in the form of people and animals that appear along the way to his hellish task.
Every aspect of the story complements and adds detail to its noir tone. Rankin and Florence stop at the Pizza Palace and Rankin notices that the man tossing their pizza crust sports “Aryan Brotherhood prison tattoos.” The novel never loses its tone of quiet despair and frozen isolation, and this is underscored by the scenes of snow falling on the urban landscape--magnifying the sense of desolation experienced by the characters. The subtle motif of boot tracks appears throughout the novel, and these footprints in the snow represent the irreversible, seminal actions undertaken in life—our actions and the events we experience form the path that leads to our destiny: “People were what they were till they died.”A blurb on the back jacket of Boot Tracks states that a previous book by the same author, Deepwater was made into a film, and I’m not surprised. Boot Tracks screams to be made into a neo-noir thriller. The terse prose of this remarkably visual novel is permeated with sensory immediacy. One can almost smell the stale sweat and the cheap musty perfume rising from the unwashed bodies of the author’s unpleasant, alienated and often-grotesque characters. This is a tight, tense read, and one you won’t soon forget.
- Amazon readers rating: from 3 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Cooter Farm (1992)
- Elements of Hitting (1994)
- A Single Shot (1996)
- Blind Pursuit (1997)
- Deepwater (1999)
- Boot Tracks (May 2006)
Movies from books:
- Deepwater (2006)
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About the Author:
Matthew F. Jones was born in Boston and raised in rural upstate New York. He lives with his family in Charlottesville, Virginia.