The Nerd fucking tore through this one, dear reader, tore through it like it was a stack of pancakes at three o’clock on a black-out drunken Saturday morning. Hell On Church Street, Jake Hinkson’s addictively creepy debut novel, reads fast but lingers long, his lead character and narrator of Brother Geoffrey Webb acting as one helluva tour guide through, well, fucking hell, obviously. If you’re a basement crazy fan of the dark stuff, you’ll want to drag this potent-as-hell concoction up from the cellar toot-fucking-sweet. Try as you might to savor that shit, the Nerd guarantees you’ll just end up fucking chugging it. (The Nerd is all about the booze today, New Year’s Eve, aka Amateur Night, must be fast approaching.)
Webb is a youth pastor for a small Arkansas Baptist church. He knows religion is all a scam, but he got into the racket due to his ability to people please and the church’s begrudging acceptance of him when no one else on Earth would. Webb is carrying on an affair with the underage daughter of the church’s pastor, her lack of friends and self-esteem seeming to keep him in the clear legally, until the local sheriff gets wind of their boning down. Luckily for him, Sheriff Doolittle has no intention of turning him in. Unluckily for Webb, Doolittle blackmails him into stealing some documents that could make the sheriff and his famously corrupt clan (think the Bennett family from Justified only more fucked up) very wealthy. When Webb botches the job and is forced into killing some folks, his sweet gig at the church starts to get decidedly less cushy.
Hinkson keeps this shit rolling on at a tight clip, the decisions and actions Webb makes and takes getting more dire and disgusting as Hell On Church Street flies by. The violence is shocking and the tension never lets up, but what puts this story over the top is Webb himself, both as a character and a storyteller. Webb is telling his sordid tale to a drifter who tried to carjack him as they ride through Oklahoma and back towards Arkansas, Webb bringing healthy helpings of his sleazy charm and some harsh, dark-night-of-the-soul honesty to the story in equal measure. This approach both gives the story some considerable style in the voice department and lends Webb plenty of sympathy from the reader. After we get a full rundown of all of Webb’s sins by the book’s climax, the guy’s lucky we don’t want to fucking strangle him ourselves, but Hinkson’s understanding and obvious affection for Webb keeps us from judging him as brutally as he may well deserve.
Hell On Church Street made the Nerd no-shit put aside time for it, like “avoided social situations, television and movie viewing, and writing” put aside time for this shit. I just fucking had to find out what happens next, needed hang out in this nasty, oddly funny world Hinkson has created. I may be a bigger book fiend than most, but I rarely put reading first in my entertainment options hierarchy. Hell On Church blew that hierarchy all to shit, dear reader. You should pick it up and see if it doesn’t start a full-on fucking revolution in your priorities list as well.