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Lake Charles by Ed Lynskey

“Lake Charles” by Ed Lynskey is a taught, atmospheric southern noir that will keep most readers glued to their chairs start to finish. I found myself really enjoying getting to know the colorful characters and following with bated breath what happens to the protagonist and his friends.

The story is set in remote eastern Tennessee along the shores of what I think is a fictional reservoir near Gatlinburg in the Blue Ridge Mountains the author calls Lake Charles. In this backwoods environment everyone packs a pistol (or a few) and knows how to use these deadly weapons. This is a tale of a modern day blood feud between a pack of pot and cocaine smugglers/growers and some ordinary folks who get in their way. The innocent protagonist and his friends decide to retaliate after being bushwacked and commit some pretty violent acts themselves as vigilantes.

The protagonist, Brendan Fishback, is an average joe who works by day as a printer and by night does his share of drinking and smoking pot at local taverns and at home. He meets the daughter of a local politician who convinces him to spend the night with her at a local motel. They smoke and drink too much and the next thing Brendan knows the girl is lying in bed next to him dead of an overdose of angel dust. Brendan is accused of murdering the girl and gets beaten up by the girl’s father and some corrupt local cops when he reports the death and is interrogated. While he is awaiting his trial Brendan, his brother-in-law, Cobb, and sister, Edna decide to go fishing and jet skiing for the weekend at the local reservoir, Lake Charles.

The apparent kidnapping of Edna while jet skiing on the lake starts off a series of attacks and counter-attacks between Brendan, Cobb, Cobb’s father, Mr. Kuzawa, and Brendan’s attorney, Herzog, vs. the pot growers and forces aligned with the politician, Sizemore.

There is a lot to like about this noir tale– it is inventive, action-packed, the characters are colorful, and the writing is very descriptive. The main cast of heroes in this tale are flawed, but likeable.

What I don’t like is that the author seems to be trying very hard to be literary and it makes the conversations between these ordinary, folksy characters sound like they belong in a college graduate level English seminar. I occasionally muttered to myself as I read the book, “who talks like that?” Well, Brendan is a printer, after all, but not one who ever went to college. His way of talking just isn’t believable.

I found the lack of authenticity in Brendan’s voice a little annoying, but it did not take away my empathy for the guy or my interest in reading the book cover to cover to find out what happens to Brendan and his friends. I think most others will find the plot sufficiently nail-biting to hang in there as well.

I read a pre-pub review copy of the book. “Lake Charles” is scheduled for publication by Wildside Press on June 15, 2011.

Liz Nichols

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