I'd read some short stories by Jake Hinkson and enjoyed them, so I expected to like his first novel, too. But
HELL ON CHURCH STREET turned out to be even better than I thought it would be. It's a very strong debut.
Except for a framing sequence that concerns an armed robbery gone wrong, this novel is narrated in flashback by one Geoffrey Webb, a young man from a bad family background who becomes the youth minister at a small Baptist church in
. Maybe Geoffrey isn't exactly a sociopath, but it's pretty obvious that, as folks from the country might say, that boy ain't right. For one thing, he gets involved with the underage daughter of the church's pastor, and then when a corrupt local lawman horns his way in on Geoffrey's plans, things get really bad. Then, as they always do in noir novels . . . they get worse. Arkansas
I don't know anything about Hinkson's background, but I grew up in a Baptist church much like the one in this book, and he really nails the setting and the characters. The prose is very readable, and the pace races along just the way I like. Geoffrey Webb isn't really an unreliable narrator; he's pretty honest about himself and what he's doing. Nor is he the least bit sympathetic. But he is very compelling. I don't think most readers will root for him – I certainly didn't – but I did want to find out what was going to happen to him.
This is the second extremely good debut novel from New Pulp Press that I've read this year, the other one being Heath Lowrance's THE BASTARD HAND. And in both of them, oddly enough, organized religion plays an important part in the plot. Is this the beginning of a new sub-genre? Church noir? Eh, probably not, although that would make a good theme for an anthology, wouldn't it? Let's just say that
HELL ON CHURCH STREET is a fine novel, and it's available now in both print and e-book editions. You should check it out.
(By the way, I have my own church noir novel I'm going to write one of these days . . . when I get around to all the novels I'm going to write one of these days.)