John Rector is a game changer
I know that’s a bold statement, but look at the Nebraska author’s history. He was one of the first novelists to start selling his first novel, the Grove, through the then begrudging Kindle market. He then turned around and sold his second novel, the Cold Kiss (my 2010 novel of the year), to a traditional publisher, much to the exasperation of his ‘indie author’ fanbase. His move to Amazon ‘s Thomas & Mercer Imprint has stirred even more controversy, particularly with independent booksellers such as Seattle’s Mystery Bookshop who have publically refused to stock Amazon released titles.
But let’s forget all of that, let’s focus on Rector the novelist and his newest effort, Already Gone.
John Rector is still a game changer.
Much like what he did with The Cold Kiss, Rector has taken a well worn mystery trope—in the case of Already Gone, a missing corpse mystery (Okay, that’s a spoiler and you should probably ignore it)—and made it fresh and uniquely his own.
Already Gone is the story of John Reese, a recently hired college professor at what appears to be a small mid-western liberal arts school to teach creative writing. Reese’ life is an idyllic one—after a tumultuous youth, including being raised by Parker-esque hard man and jail time—a new job, a critically acclaimed book and a new wife. All of this changes when Reese is attacked outside of a bar after having drinks with his fellow professors and his wedding ring is stolen. Of course his attackers use a pair of bolt cutters to take the ring along with the finger it’s attached to
There seems to be no reason for the attack and the police chalk it up to nothing more than a sadistic mugging, at least until Reese receives his finger back in a jar of embalming fluid and the authorities start taking a hard look at Reese’ past. Needless to say, his new bride, Diane, is more than a little freaked by his attack and begins drifting away from him and disappears briefly during a business trip to Phoenix.
Eventually, Diane returns with promises that things will be different, that she knows their lives will return to normal and they can be happy.
Diane, of course, then dies in a car accident.
Reese spirals into a alcoholic haze and decides to pursue the men who attacked him and to find out why Diane was traveling down the lonely stretch of road where she was killed and her connection to the business card of a psychic he finds while searching through her belongings..
Unlike his previous two novels, Rector takes his time in building up tension (for the exception of the explosive opening scene.) in Already Gone until the final hundred pages, where he switches gears from a noir-ish slow burn to a full paced thriller. As to be expected, Rector’s writing has a heavy cinematic quality which is only exemplified by his use of first person present narration. (albeit certain readers may find the style slightly jarring at first, but the effect of the narrative device through out the course of the novel rewards the reader with a near real time experience.) Reese’ effect as a narrator is that you feel he is guileless, a damaged man who so craves a ‘normal’ existence that he’s blinded by his faith in his few loved ones that he can’t see inevitable betrayals lurking around the corner.
Already Gone is a terse, moody thriller, which in lesser hands could have easily fallen into cliché. Both fans of traditional mysteries and bug shit crazy fans of noir will find the novel more than appealing. Although Already Gone was not my favorite of Rector’s novels, readers who were gun shy in embracing hardboiled outings such as The Cold Kiss and the macabre The Groove, may find that Already Gone might be the best entry in which to start reading a novelist who I consider to be one of the very best new writers to enter the scene in a very long time.