reviewed by Nick Mamatas
“Three Theories on the Murder of John Wily” by J David Osborne is the sort of new crime story I would love to love, but in this case I don’t. John Wily is a meth-dealing lowlife. He’s killed. The narrator suggests three alternative theories as to Wily’s death, but none of them are very interesting. Neither is Wily himself. In most alternative theories, he’s so exceptionally stupid that the real question is not “Whodunit?” but “How wasn’t he murdered years before?”
The writing is rather pedestrian as well. In theory #2, we’re told that “John Wily looked deeply into the black man’s eyes, and said through clenched teeth. ‘Always me before you. Always.'” Looked deeply, did he? Right there at the check-out stand, where the black man was talking to the clerk, and had his earbuds in? How did John Wily manage to do this—grab the other fellow by the lapels, or fly up and around the counter to hover over it?
Indeed, most everything happens in a generic spaceless timeless Methland—there’s a bathtub full of moonshine at Wily’s wake, presumably because Wily’s dad knew to start up the still and fill the tub a few weeks prior. Someone gets his legs taken out from under him with an aluminum baseball bat, but just limps away and returns to his car…where a whore he had beaten for trying to escape is apparently waiting patiently instead of running off. Of course there are deranged rednecks, weak women giving blowjobs for drugs, and the rest of the usual frou-frou of Badass Fiction, but there isn’t a trace of vitality to the worlds Osborne depicts, no reason to care about any of the theories because the facts of life are missing. “Three Theories” is an entirely hypothetical work—why do people about which the author and thus the reader know nothing live and die?