We all know this guy, a man who never takes responsibility for his mistakes, and a man who never feels the weight of his self-inflicted mishaps. This is the man at the center of Chris Orlet’s “A Taste of Shotgun” (All Due Respect).
I was late getting to the prison.
From the opening line, we get a damning picture of the protagonist Denis Carroll. Not only is he late picking his brother up from prison, Denis’s life is been in a glacial decline: the bar he owns with this brothers is barely surviving, he lets his ex-con’s brother’s trailer fall into utter disrepair, he’s forced to deal pot out of his bar, and his marriage barely exists.
Told from Denis’s viewpoint, Orlet does well to deliver slivers of information about Denis’s life and laissez-faire attitude. Imagine if Brad Pitt’s character in “True Romance” held a job, you’d then have Denis Carroll.
An hour before we hit town it occurred to me that I’d forgotten to check on Vince’s trailer. The last time I’d seen the trailer—it must’ve been two years ago—it was looking pretty rough. The screen door hung off like a broken arm, the front porch had collapsed and at least one window was busted out. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed, but I’d also forgotten to turn on the electricity. And the water.
Orlet’s setting in a small American town in spot-on. Orlet doesn’t have the crooked cop harassing the Carroll family—I know it’s a little thing but a badly-used trope can ruin a book. Even the two-bit crooks and hoodlums are just that, small-time. They fly below the police’s radar with their penny-ante drug deals and as long as they don’t get blatant with their activity or start beating people, their criminal lives go on. Orlet’s “A Taste of Shotgun” is a great view of small-time crime and it’s working-class in America roots as people struggle to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families.
The one place I felt let down was in the ending and since that’s a huge spoiler it wasn’t included in the regular review. You can either stop here or continue reading by scrolling past the image of Orlett’s first book, “In The Pines” (New Pulp Press).
At its core Orlet’s “A Taste of Shotgun” is noir and the promise of noir is it’s all going to go away. Not kind-of go away, it will all disappear with lots of pain. There was some of that, but always with a touch of sweetener on it. Denis lost his bar, but got a sizable payout; his wife left him, but he got good visitation rights; he killed a few people, but got away with it. None of this felt like it was enough. Denis still skated through his morally ambiguous life, making the same mistakes and still not caring. On Denis’s last night in the bar, in walked his comeuppance: Randy Goodwin. Finally, it was all coming to an end.
Goodwin, the evil guy that lurked in the shadows of the town, had come to seek his vengeance as Denis had decimated his family. Alone in a closed bar with Goodwin and Denis’s family knocking on the front door, they fought. Goodwin lost, Denis lived, and I was disappointed. The promise of a noir ending was gone without so much of a hint that the book might go that way.
I’m okay with a Hollywood ending as much as the next guy, but Orlet needed to foreshadow that things could get better for Denis rather than have everything suddenly turn out fine: money, family and his existence. I don’t believe life goes that way for people like Denis and it definitely doesn’t go that way for people like him in noir. As much as I loved the first line of “A Taste of Shotgun”, I found the last line to be just as disappointing.
Then I hurried to the front door to greet my family.
Thanks for reading the review of Chris Orlet’s “A Taste of Shotgun” at Unlawful Acts.