My love of John Rector’s The Cold Kiss is well documented on these here internets, dear reader. It’s one of those books that is so intense, so tightly written that I wouldn’t even think twice about shoving it into the hands of literally any reader, knowing that, even if it wasn’t necessarily their type of thing, that once the hypothetical reader made it a few pages in they’d be locked in for the rest of the grim ride. I’m over-fucking-joyed to say that Rector’s new novel The Grove is equally handy at stapling balls (or lady-bits, respectively) to chairs (or mattresses, respectively).
It’s the story of Dexter McCray, a farmer who wakes up one morning with his wife gone, a major hangover and a dead teenager in the cottonwood grove at the edge of his field. Having recently gone off his anti-psychotic meds (the decision that lead to his wife’s departure) and off the wagon something fierce, McCray can’t say for sure that it wasn’t him who killed the girl. If he does report the body, chances are folks will just assume it’s him, small town Nebraska folks never able to forgive your past sins, sins like the manslaughter McCray committed back in his pre-medicated days. So McCray takes it upon himself investigate the murder to clear his name before it’s even on anybody’s lips, going into town and slyly searching for suspects. Luckily for him, as he keeps refusing his meds, he’s soon got a sleuthing partner in the form of the dead girl herself…
Rector’s ridiculously assured command of tension is on full, preening fucking display in The Grove. The forward momentum of the plot is peppered with juicy-ass questions: Is the dead girl truly supernatural or is Dexter just crazy? If Dexter didn’t kill her then who did? What exactly happened that fateful night so many years ago? But he’s not just dicking around while we wait for answers, dear reader. As in The Cold Kiss, Rector piles on the complications on every chapter in refreshingly organic ways, the plot never getting too big for its no-bullshit premise, but also never too straight-forward so as to bore the shit out of you either.
But don’t let all this plot talk make you think Rector’s stiffing you on character, dear reader, because McCray is fucked up and fascinating enough for any number of novels. As a reader you’re never sure where exactly you stand with him seeing how he’s, you know, off his fucking meds and possibly a fucking murderer two times over, but I guarantee your ass won’t be able to look away until you find out just what the score is.
I don’t claim to be an even half-way decent barometer of mass pop culture taste – I’m primarily a champion of books that only a handful of people (known affectionately as “the basement crazies”) can truly get behind. But I think Rector hits that sweet spot that only a few writers are ever able to achieve, that secluded, private safe place where discerning, deranged basement crazies and middle-boiled thriller readers can embrace and kiss, maybe give each other a handjob or two. Writers like Don Winslow and Dennis Lehane each have keys to this club. I think John Rector’s gonna be fucking huge soon, dear reader, and that he just might sit at the head of the fucking table.