Crime-On-Crime Review Series #10: No Tomorrow, by Jake Hinkson

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(Editors Note: This review was written by guest reviewer Eric Beetner. Eric is the Guest Editor for our first issue, out in January. He was nice enough to drop by the Crime Syndicate blog today and share this  guest book review with our audience.)

Looking over my list of this year’s reads, it included some really great books. But while perusing the top-tier of my favorite reads for the year, I realized one in particular hadn’t gotten the attention I felt it deserved.

Many of my favorites of the year – Bull Mountain, Where All Light Tends To Go, Sympathy For The Devil – had gotten their share of love, but I realized that No Tomorrow by Jake Hinkson wasn’t getting much ink spilled in its direction. Maybe it’s because we’ve come to expect greatness from Hinkson, and when No Tomorrow delivered, it wasn’t news.

It should be. No Tomorrow is Hinkson’s strongest work since Hell On Church Street, which to me was a modern classic. Hinkson writes from a place of the past. Sometimes it feels like his writing desk must be inside a time machine. What makes No Tomorrow so sublime is how it takes the feel and patina of a classic 1940s or 50s pulp paperback and makes it fresh and modern.

You know how certain Coen Brother’s films have that perfect mix of classic and cutting edge? That’s what No Tomorrow is. It’s Hinkson’s Miller’s Crossing. A throwback that could only have been crafted today.

At its core, No Tomorrow is a story of lust, jealousy, repression, and self-discovery. Wrap those aspects in a pitch-black noir story and you get Hinkson’s unique take on the subject matter. But he goes you one better. He flips the gender of the classic noir set-up, the basic adultery story and murder tale, and comes out with something totally fresh.

Billie Dixon is the kind of character no one would have written back in the time period the novel is set – 1947. She holds her secrets close to her chest, but when she shares those secrets with a woman she meets in the deep, bible belt south, things get steamy, then turn deadly.

Hinkson writes about religious fundamentalism better than nearly anyone, and while the corrupt nature of the backwoods church folk in this story isn’t as front and center as in some of his other works, it infuses No Tomorrow with a fatalism that only deepens the shadows at the noir heart of the story.

When things turn deadly, Billie is forced to confront the “Capital B” big question all noir protagonists must face: what do I do when I’m out of options? What kind of person am I when the chips are down?

But Hinkson isn’t satisfied with only a single crucial life decision for Billie. Each choice she makes leads to another crisis, and soon her life is more complicated than she could ever have imagined, even when she seemed on the cusp of true happiness.

No Tomorrow dives deep into the whirlpool. Nobody is safe, nobody is innocent, and nobody is getting away clean. What I liked most about it that I see less and less of these days is that the story always keeps moving forward. Billie is a woman of action. Ill-advised and doomed action most times, but still, she keeps moving forward. It could have turned into a brooding Douglas Sirk-esque take of unrequited love and repression, but Hinkson keeps the pulp pages turning as the road before Bille keeps twisting.

So Hinkson’s works has become routinely brilliant. That’s no excuse not to celebrate every one of his fresh new takes on a classic style. No Tomorrow works equally well as an introduction to Hinkson’s bleak but satisfying world of hopeful but doomed noir losers, or as further evidence of his complete lock on the genre among contemporary writers. Either way, get your hands on this book and be grateful that pitch-perfect noir writing has a future as long as Jake Hinkson is at the keyboard.

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