(Editor’s note: This review was penned by crime fiction author Sarah M. Chen, and is the first in many guest reviews we plan to bring you here on Crime Syndicate’s site)
I don’t know how he does it, but Greg Barth writes the vilest, most twisted scenes, where I almost want to read with my hands covering my eyes, but instead I keep reading because I can’t stop. It’s like this force is compelling me to read about all the horrid, awful things that are happening to Selena, the protagonist in Barth’s series published by All Due Respect Books. I cringe at every single word, but at the same time I’m lapping it up. It’s like crack. Reading about Selena is like crack. I’m not kidding.
If you haven’t read it, I won’t get into the details of the first book in the trilogy, Selena, because this review is about the second installment, Diesel Therapy. But I’m telling you, if you start with Diesel Therapy, you’ll want to immediately go out and grab the first in the series anyway. So do yourself a favor now and start in order, because it’s better that way. I believe all series are better that way, but this series especially.
Okay, so here’s what you need to know about Diesel Therapy. It’s not as brutally violent as Selena, but that means nothing. There are still plenty of cringe-inducing and shocking scenes that left me wondering how she’s going to get out of the shitstorm she’s in. But we’re talking about Selena here. She’s one badass babe from backwoods Kentucky who people continually mess with only to discover that they made a grave mistake.
Selena isn’t so tough in the beginning because she’s in prison and doesn’t have much to do other than read and get sober. We get to know her on a deeper level and come to an understanding of why she’s the way she is. Despite her many vices, she has a strong moral center, which I know sounds weird considering all the screwed-up things she’s done and is about to do. After enduring the most horrific torture that powerful higher-ups can think of for a federal prisoner, Selena is on a mission for revenge. But it’s not exactly the revenge you would think. I don’t want to spoil anything but the second half of the story is like Pulp Fiction meets Deliverance. And I know you won’t believe me, but there’s even a love story weaved in there. It’s a fucked up love story, but it’s still a love story.
Barth has a knack for creating characters that challenge the reader. Almost like he’s daring us to root for them. He knows how to juxtapose fragility with brutality, sensitivity with depravity. It’s unusual for me to detest a character only to find myself rooting for them down the road. This attests to Barth’s skill at creating complex characters who encompass both sides of the morality coin. Then he makes them totally likable. I don’t know how he does it, but it just makes me want more. I’m jonesing for the third installment.
Crack, I’m telling you. This series is pure crack.
Sarah M. Chen juggles several jobs including indie bookseller, transcriber, and insurance adjuster. Her crime fiction short stories have been accepted for publication online and in various anthologies, including All Due Respect, Akashic, Plan B, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Betty Fedora, Spelk, and the Sisters in Crime/LA anthology, Ladies Night. Her noir novella, Cleaning Up Finn, is coming out May 2016 with All Due Respect Books. www.sarahmchen.com