Set in small town America in the early 40’s, The Rib From Which I Remake The World starts out as a smart and literate hardcore noir, before gradually descending into a bleak supernatural nightmare, which explodes in the final act into a maelstrom of violence and horror.
Central to the tale is JoJo, a hotel detective and ex-cop with a complicated past (and who I fondly imagine to be named after a character in a Tom Waits song). He’s a quintessential noir protagonist, in many ways - alcoholic, perpetually looking for either cigarettes or a light, laid low by a woman (or, to be more precise, women) - yet a combination of canny decisions about the specific nature of JoJo’s ‘sins’, alongside powerful yet unsentimental pathos, breathes not just life but vitality into these tropes, rounding out JoJo as a painfully believable character.
Similarly, the small town of Litchfield is practically a character in it’s own right. Using sparse but carefully chosen description, Kurtz brings this 1940’s Arkansas small town to vivid life, peopled with a believable cast of characters with their own tangled relationships. He also does an exceptional job of keeping these characters moving and interacting, weaving a complex plot with such skill that the narrative never becomes confusing or hard to follow.
After flirting with the supernatural murder mystery genre, the narrative takes a massive twist around the two third marker, and from there descends into a nightmare with elements of vintage King and Barker, but still with this jet black noir menace and vibe that is all Kurtz. I was astonished and deeply impressed by the way the finale played out, layers under layers peeling away, with poignancy and horror in equal measure.
In summary, this is an impressive and assured work - dark, often bleak, but with a fragile vein of hope that prevents it becoming totally nihilistic. There’s also an incredible sense of time and place, the darkness of which Kurtz does not shy away from or minimize, brilliantly realised characters, and a juggernaut of a narrative that fuses noir and horror with such ferocity that you can practically smell the burning cauterisation. A brilliant novel.
Read our review of The Rib From Which I Remake the World Here
And read Ed's Entry in The books of My Childhood here