Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Purgatory Chasm

Steve Ufelder
Purgatory Chasm

Minotaur Books, 2011

Former alcoholics have to help each other. This is the motto for Conway Sax, a former alcoholic and drug addict, a former race car driver and now a car mechanic who dreams of his own garage. Conway belongs to the anonymous group Barnburners: if one Barnburner is in trouble, the other Barnburner has to come to the rescue. So Tander Phigg, the son of the late local magnate, comes to Conway for help. Phigg’s given his car to be repaired to a body shop, but it's been a few months, but there is no result – a vintage Mercedes is still in the body shop. Phigg asks Conway to return to him the car and the money given for the job.

But after the first visit to the body shop Conway stumbles upon a surly owner, and gets a blow to the head with something heavy. Phigg soon is found hanged in his shack, but Conway won’t stop until he finds out what's what. Even dead Barnburners need help.

Sax is an unexpected hybrid of amateur detective and a private investigator with the profession of a mechanic. Sax is not the smartest of the detectives in the world literature: he knows how to survive on the street, but may not know a particular word or its pronunciation. The guy is just a mechanic trying to build a family and start his own business. Selecting such a narrator, not the brightest head, Steve Ufelder tricks the reader making one believe as if the author himself is not smart. And former profession of the narrator, race car driver, even hints that there will not be any investigation, and all will come down to race at high speeds and fist fights.

After leading the reader by the nose for half a novel, Ufelder gradually pulls rabbits from the hat - one by one. Multiple story lines begin to connect into one, the number of twists is growing exponentially, and the finale in general leads to believe that the mechanics are the most insightful people on earth.

In addition to entertaining plot, Ufelder catches a wave which a little town lives on, where the events of the book take place. And the little people are capable of great crimes.

Purgatory Chasm has a few stylistic imperfections, not including typos. For example, Ufelder clunky switches from the dialogue to the first person narration. This is evident in the dialogues Sax has with new characters Sachs had just met and who share their life stories. Ufelder does not let a character to speak out, replacing character words with Sax’s. And it looks, as if Sax reads dossier of one or another character from a sheet of paper.

Purgatory Chasm is able to pleasantly surprise. Isn’t it what we expect from literature - to surprise us?

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