A Swollen Red Sun
by Matthew McBride
Mysterious Press (2014)
If you're looking for a writer to capture the frailty of Missouri's criminal element, Matthew McBride is your man. Where he took Frank Sinatra in a Blender and showed the near-slapstick side of noir among bumbling crooks and scheming private-eyes, he has taken A Swollen Red Sun and shown the near-satanic side of noir among cranked-out mountain folk and the desperate lawmen out to stop them.
Gasconade County, Missouri has the reputation of being the meth capital of the world. Just wrap your head around that for a second. There's a whole lot of meth on this big ol' planet, and this backwater burg is ground zero for it. Whether true or not, it sure feels like the drug has permeated the county in this novel, like the way cigarette smoke gets into the upholstery and the walls of a home. It just sullies everything, especially the people. One unlucky soul winds up being a lawman, not because he's succumbed to the drug itself, but to the stash of cash he finds inside a ratty old trailer used to cook the stuff. Temptation sinks into him like that first, sweet hit and from then on his life is irrevocably damaged. It comes on slow, like the addiction. Feels good to have some money socked away to care for his family, maybe give them a better life. Make a guy feel like he's on top of the world, but it doesn't last. A drug steals away a person's soul bit by bit. That fleeting euphoria replaced by mounting dread, because the amoral junkies he's robbed want that money back.
It seems like I've been reading a fair number of books and seeing a fair number of movies about the downtrodden lately, and A Swollen Red Sun felt like it encapsulated many of them in a sense. Out of the Furnace, Southern Bastards, Donnybrook, No Country for Old Men, Winter's Bone, and others all find that glimmer of good running for its life on a mountain of malevolence. Matthew McBride's offering in the southern noir feels like a runaway train from the moment a cash-strapped deputy decided to steal that drug money hidden in cat litter. And it only gets better with every page.
I don't know what your taste in books is when it comes to summer reading, but if you are looking for some rawboned crime fiction, then A Swollen Red Sun is just that book.