Jake Hinkson is a wizard. It isn’t the words he uses, though the words he picks are generally the right words for whatever he is trying to communicate. It isn’t his plots; sometimes next to nothing actually happens. It is his ability to hit you, at the end of a story, with a cumulative moral impact, that never slips into moralizing, that recalls the work of an author like Flannery O’Connor.

I won’t go through the stories one-by-one, except to say there isn’t a weak one in the bunch. A couple of times, I felt I could see the end coming before it got there, and still felt like I was socked in the gut when it arrived. The sensation is like watching an avalanche heading towards a small town. You may know exactly what is about to happen, but it still hurts your heart and soul to see it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that his version of neo-noir deals with damaged people doing damaged or damaging things, naturally, and usually bad things happen to them as well, in the process. But Hinkson’s writing has the feel of inevitability, the true meaning of karma being a chain of cause and effect that is, ultimately, inescapable. No matter how badly life has treated these people in his tales, it is never justified that they do what they do, nor is it merely condemned, as in a cheap moral at the end of a fairy tale. Instead, he shows you that choices are being made all the time, that certain times come where we confront our ultimate destiny and that it is we, ourselves, who choose what that destiny will be.

A few of the stories don’t have this. They have no consequences shown for the choices made by the characters. He just served us slicesof broken lives. And those remind us: the wreckage of humanity is already a potential within us all. Any of these characters could be us, the readers, “but not for the grace of God,” as many of Hinkson’s characters might say.

If you like neo-noir, or even classic noir or heavyweight literary fiction, give this book a try. It’s fairly short and carries more impact within its pages than many books twice its size.

Jake Hinkson is a wizard and his magic terrifies me, but I can’t look away as he peels away the layers of goodness and righteousness that hide many a brutal or brutalized soul.