In addition to horror, one of the genres I’m particularly fond of is dark crime. When I say dark, I mean black as night. I’m talking about the bleakest, blackest, dirtiest, and grungiest sort of crime novel. Think Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, and more recently, Richard Thomas and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about. And there’s a sub-genre of dark crime, maybe more of a neo-noir, that I’ve been reading a lot of lately and come to think of as redneck-noir. Joe Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard series or Adam Howe’s recent novellas would be good examples of what I’m talking about. Another shining specimen would be James Newman’s “White-Trash Noir” novel, UGLY AS SIN.
UGLY AS SIN synopsis from Amazon:
Nick Bullman was a wrestling superstar. His alter ego, The Widowmaker, was the monster heel all the marks loved to hate.
Now, after a brutal encounter with two psychotic fans left his face horribly disfigured, he’s just a monster.
Yanked from the spotlight and thrust into the shadows, these days Nick tries to live the life of an average Joe. He avoids mirrors. He’s angry. He’s alone. And he likes it just fine that way…
Until he receives a desperate phone call from a young lady he barely knows—his daughter.
For the first time in over thirty years, Nick returns to his hometown of Midnight, North Carolina. There he will come face to face with old demons, forge new friendships, and make enemies far more dangerous than those who ruined his face, all in a quest to save the granddaughter he’s never met…and maybe find a little bit of redemption along the way.
Ugly As Sin is an electrifying tale of “white-trash noir,” a taut page-turner that skates the razor edge of a familiar, horrifying reality. At times heartbreaking, funny, and terrifyingly suspenseful, Ugly As Sin is Newman’s best work to date.
To the best of my knowledge, UGLY AS SIN is James Newman’s first foray into dark crime fiction. His prior work is mostly, if not entirely, in the horror genre. That said, Newman handles gritty redneck-noir like an old hand.
UGLY AS SIN has all the elements that make a story good: excellent pacing, well written dialog, a rock solid premise, and tense sequences of violent action. But none of these things, combined or individually, make this story great. No, what takes this good story and turns it into a great one is some of the best damn character development I’ve ever seen. That’s no exaggeration. From the smallest to the largest of roles, every single character has a back story. We know something of what makes them tick, why they talk the way they do, why they make the decisions they make. They are colorful, three-dimensional people and it isn’t a cliche to say they’re easy to care about. One character in particular really shines. Nick Bullman is an infinitely complex, hopelessly fucked up individual who is at times almost detestable but most of the time absolutely loveable from a reader’s viewpoint. Physically and emotionally scarred, Nick plows his brutal way through obstacle after obstacle in single-minded yet selfless fashion, relentlessly determined to find his missing granddaughter and, in the process, the redemption he didn’t realize he craved.
By turns bleak, bloody, and heartrending, UGLY AS SIN is a fast, action-packed thriller with a shocker of an ending and a horrific, grotesque discovery in store for Nick Bullman in the later pages of the book. Several times recently, I’ve said something along the lines of, “one of my favorite reads of the year”, but I can go further than that with UGLY AS SIN. This is one of my favorite reads of the last few decades, maybe of all time. It’s that good. I hope to see more of Nick Bullman and company in the future and I will read every book Newman publishes going forward. If you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favor and go get it.