The Student by Iain Ryan

Nate is a college student and pot dealer living in a trailer park outside of Gatton, Queensland in 1994. Winter has left Gatton and September’s spring has dried up Nate’s pot supply causing him several problems in Iain Ryan’s The Student (Echo Press). First and foremost, Nate pays his rent with weed, so no weed no trailer. And then his friend and connection Jesse has disappeared. Eviction looms and it’s only Wednesday.

A few more pages into The Student, two bikers from the Doomriders visit Nate looking for Jesse and/or $45,000. Dennis and Hatch scare the shit out of Nate while explaining to him that he is now responsible for the money and they’ll be back to collect in a few days. It’s still only Wednesday.

Told in the first person, The Student takes place over a frantic week as Nate searches for Jesse and the money while all the time dodging customers who are unrelenting in their want of weed and the two bikers intent on getting their pound of flesh or money — they don’t seem to care. At times, Ryan has Nate slip into a stream-of-consciousness style that only increases the tension. Nate’s journey introduces us to a cast of strange characters, weird in that way that twenty-something-year-olds are as they try to discover what kind of adults they’ll be, but calling Ryan’s The Student a coming of age novel is like saying The Silence of the Lambs is about a dressmaker.

The Student makes this the fourth book I’ve read of Iain Ryan’s since November 2016. In crime fiction terms, The Student is a vanished person thriller, but that would be like categorizing Ryan’s Tunnel Island series as police procedurals. Hint, they’re not. Ryan infuses a deep dose of noir into his books, twisting the standard genres into something deviant and dark. Like Ryan’s other books, The Student is a great read filled with plenty of weirdness, violence, drugs, sex, and other sins.

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Civil Twilight by Iain Ryan

Listening to Jay Stringer’s podcast, Hacks, Stringer had an interesting conversation with Josh Stallings who asked, “In American crime fiction, what does post-Ferguson America do with the cop procedural?” A damn good question.

Is the police procedural in the States and elsewhere dead? Not so much dead, just different. Iain Ryan’s Tunnel Island series is the evolution of the police procedural where there is no room for murder books, there is no right way to police, there are no heroes, there are only cops — and they are criminals, each one of them. Ryan’s Civil Twilight, the third in his Tunnel Island series, explores a world where the only difference between cops and criminals is the day job they hate.

The constables— both annoyed, both now soaked through— conducted a half-arsed grid search of the area and turned up nothing. It was midday by the time the acting coroner arrived, Doctor Hooper. He was pissy about the rain. He stood over the body and shook his head and said, “Yeah, he’s dead. Can I go back to the office now?”

Civil Twilight continues the story of pseudo-partners Jim Harris and Laura Romano as they try to keep a kind of order that allows crime to flourish in a sort of Hamsterdam way. Harris and Romano are both past flawed, they are studies of anger and addiction, of force and folly, of murder and mayhem. They are everything you don’t want in a cop. Both may think they are on the road to recovery, they really have no idea where they are walking.

They took his car but Bo drove. Harris directed him to a store not far from the house where he bought a short bottle. If Bo and Frank knew his history, they did a good job hiding it. Neither of them flinched. They sat up front and let him drink his way back to level.

At one point, Romano finds herself attracted to a potential suspect and men are one of the many things she has issues with.

Romano sat in the sand and waited. She hated the melodrama of men but it was always this way with her. Her whole life, she had made difficult decisions for a living. Under pressure, she could react. She could do things other people seemed incapable of. She could arrive at a crime scene and work it. And before the transfer to Tunnel, she’d worked cases tirelessly, alert to connections and nuances that the other detectives around her often failed to see. At the end of those cases, she had often put herself in harm’s way and lived. Never thought much of it; just did it. But this, this part of her life— this part with men— was always a train wreck. It diminished her. The distraction of it. Should she or shouldn’t she call this man again? Should she even touch him? Sleep with him? She knew women half her measure who could fuck-and-run without any of this. It didn’t make a lick of sense to her.

Ryan’s Civil Twilight succeeds at inventing something new, a police procedural that responds to our times rather than some glossed over Hollywood version of the heroic-damaged-misunderstood-audiophile detective, it is a place where life is thick with ambiguity and drowns in humanity’s disease. Ryan’s Tunnel Island series is a world of darkness where characters believe they are surviving, but unknowingly to them their existence is centered around trying not to eat a bullet, whether self-inflicted or a gift in the back of the head.

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