Give Up the Dead by Joe Clifford

Give Up the Dead (Oceanview Publishing) is the third in Joe Clifford’s Jay Porter PI series. Reading Clifford’s latest makes me thankful of that I gave up my compulsion to read a new-to-me series in order — all that does is make my TBR longer. Jumping into the latest book severely cuts down on my TBR except in cases like this where I finished Give Up the Dead and then added Cliffords’ December Boys and Lamentation, and his fictional memoir Junkie Love to my TBR. Best intentions, I guess.

The latest Jay Porter book opens over Thanksgiving weekend in Clifford’s fictional New Hampshire which could go to toe to toe with Russel Bank’s own New England bleakness: Porter eats Thanksgiving dinner with his ex-wife and son in a Denny’s. This is not even the low point in Porter’s life. He lives alone in an apartment above a gas station where he keeps his apartment too cold because he cannot afford to heat it. Porter’s nights usually consist of lamely-cooked pasta and a six-pack of beer, all of which is chased by a few Marlboro Lights. His days are not much better, “By noon I was sick of stale coffee, cigarettes, and my neurosis.”

Porter’s neuroses consist of plenty of bad decisions that haunt him continuously: a job that may disappear, a son living in another man’s house, thoughts of his brother and countless what ifs, and his best friend slowly killing himself with alcohol. The irony with his friend’s demise is that Porter cannot see his own reflection in his friend’s alcoholism and desperate life. In one scene, Porter talks to a woman about a young man who has gone missing.

“This is my job. I help run a drug and alcohol center. You do this long enough, you start to see patterns, recognize reoccurring looks. An expression in the eye.”

“I have a . . . reoccurring look?” I scoffed, inviting commentary with a two-finger curl. “Okay, let’s have it. What’s my ‘look’?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “You look like a guy who drinks every day. Mostly beer. So you don’t think it’s a problem. You look like a guy who set limits for himself. No more than a six-pack a night. Most nights he keeps that promise. Except sometimes he gets stressed, and then, fuck it. But that’s okay, because it’s just beer, right? You look like a guy who knows people who drink way more than he does, people with real drug and alcohol problems.” Alison glanced at my callused hands. “You work outdoors. Heavy lifting. In the trenches, man’s work. None of that cubicle bullshit for you, and out in the fields, men like you can handle their alcohol. Most of all, men like you don’t ask for help even when it’s beginning to affect their personal life.”

“My personal life?”

“I’ll go out on a limb and say you are divorced?”

“Anything else?”

“Since you asked.” There was that smile again. “Judging by the dark circles under your eyes, I’m guessing you don’t sleep too well, high strung, anxiety issues. You need something to relax, help you rest, sleeping pills, benzos, the occasional painkiller. But you don’t touch anything illegal. Anything you take, a doctor prescribes.” Alison smirked. “Am I close?”

“Not even. I don’t touch painkillers.”

“I noticed the limp, so I figured—”

“You figured wrong.” I shook my head, incredulous. “It’s been a bad few years. But I don’t have a problem.”

“Okay.”

Even if Porter cannot see his problems, everyone else can.

After writing some 250 words, I realized that I barely mentioned the crimes surrounding this piece of crime fiction. And as good as the mysteries are in Joe Clifford’s Give Up the Dead, they are not the reason to read this book, it is Jay Porter’s authenticness in life’s struggles which captivated me. Porter is the remnant of a Springsteen lyric, he is desperately trying to reclaim what was once his. Porter seems to be drifting to towards forgiving himself, but if Clifford’s series ends in tragedy, no reader would be surprised.

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