Monday, April 15, 2013
Five Years of Forgotten Books: Day Fifteen, Derek Nikitas
Derek Nikitas is the Edgar-nominated author of Pyres. He has also published short stories in both literary and crime fiction publications.God is a Bullet, Boston Teran. (bio from 2009)
Never heard of Boston Teran. Nor God is a Bullet. Not till last year after my first novel, Pyres. Random readers made comparisons. I sought the book, saw a plot hauntingly similar to mine, noted further comparisons to Jim Thompson and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. I shelved the book a while, afraid. What if it’s too similar? Will mine lose its thin cred, cease to exist?
But I gave in and turned the first page.
I relish mysteries that extend beyond the borders of the book. Who is Boston Teran? Beats me. He’s written four books, but no pictures, no appearances, few if any interviews. Hardboiled Thomas Pynchon. Or is he a Name Author slumming exquisitely under a likely pseudonym? I mean—Boston? Really? Or is he a spirit of the wastelands betwixt California and Mexico where his hardscrabble characters dwell? His prose would have you believe it—distant and biblical, stolen from some past century, yet suddenly intimate, as if it has possessed his characters.
The Teran Myth claims that much of God is a Bullet is based in fact. We are to believe there are real roving bands of psychopathic satanic outlaw drug smugglers razing their way through the So-Cal sand. Can we believe it? Perhaps. After all, this is Manson Land and Meth Heaven, Mojave Desert and Abandoned Route 66(6?). A sunburnt heart of darkness. But Teran will have us believe those devils are still going strong in 1999. I’d recount the plot, but the thrill of this book is the land and the voice that booms out of it. Teran’s.
Legend has it Teran roamed these lands, mining research, came upon a chap called the Ferryman, with all his obvious mythic connotations. Ferryman showed him the lay of the land and all its intricate traps. Ferryman haunts the book, quite literally. There was a search for an ex-cultist, a border crossing, some bad drug double dealing, sick and twisted cult activity. Supposedly Teran’s life remains in danger. Others have died. He’s in hiding, or already vanished like a latter day Ambrose Bierce. He’s left his papers behind for safe keeping—the true story behind the story of God is a Bullet.
Or am I reading this all wrong? Depends on your interpretation. Go to www.bostonteran.com to see for yourself.
Okay, so—plot. Young girl is kidnapped by a sicko band of satanic outlaws called the Left Hand of Darkness, led by Cyrus. Their depravity knows no bounds. Enter the girl’s cop father Bob Hightower, rescue mission ensues. His traveling companion is Case Hardin—young women, ex-junkie, ex-Left Hand cultist, one of the most viscerally compelling characters I’ve ever had to imagine the face of. She’s a force of violence and philosophy, the apotheosis of the noir mentality. Georgeous in her haggard, beat-down way. Plots twist, but the mission is the heart of the tale. No mind-blowing mystery, just humanity at its most desperate, amped up to eleven.
I see the similarities between Teran’s book and mine—but let’s face it, mine pales. I always wanted to write about cultists, but Teran actually did it. I wanted to push the reader to the limit of faith, but Teran pushed beyond. I wanted to bring my characters to life, but Teran’s were real before he first scrawled their names. He walks the line, ring of fire, all that. Takes risks I didn’t dare and pulls them off because he’s got the Prophecy.
His sacrifice? A diverse readership. This is no cozy mystery, no dashing thriller. This is noir with scabs and the whole spectrum of psychological scars. People will read it and say: too dour, too dark, too violent. It’s not a safe series mystery where the iconic detective solves a crime in which he has no personal stake, no lasting repercussions. This is a father on the hunt for his daughter and a woman facing her literal demons. There’s rape and trauma and forced heroin addiction and mutilation and all manner of deprivation and depravity. I don’t mean to say it’s torture porn like Hostel or Saw (which have their own merits, don’t get me wrong). Our allegiances lie with the good guys, and we want to see justice done. We’re not being asked to forget that love exists; quite the opposite. But the path to that destination is through hell.
Call me crass, but that’s how I do. Noir’s not a genre to be trifled with. It ought to have claws. It ought to reflect the true existential horror of some aspects of human existence, not flirt with it and make you feel all warm and fuzzy in the final act. You write real noir, you sacrifice book sales, probably. Lots of folks don’t want to go there, and I don’t blame them. But you write real noir and you write a certain Vital Truth, the kind that can only be found in risk-taking fiction. Boston Teran’s God is a Bullet stands testament.