It weighs in light at under 100 pages, but there’s more dark truth and dynamic action than most crime novelists can muster with more generous editors proofing their work.
Now, Jonathan Ames’ You Were Never Really Here has been developed into a hard-hitting film adaptation starring Joaquin Phoenix under the direction of Lynne Ramsey. If you didn’t need an excuse already, this is the perfect opportunity to do a drive-by on the source material.
As Donald E Westlake (aka Richard Stark) did with the Parker novels half a century earlier, Ames has crafted a taut anti-hero whose brute force and minimalist tendencies make him something of a quietly whispered legend in his own oppressed universe.
Former FBI agent, Marine and current tough-guy investigator Joe is shellshocked by his own abused childhood and a devastating trauma during his time at the FBI. He now lives with his mother and works off the books bringing back kidnapped children to their rightful parents. Through carefully selected snippets of past, we feel and understand his plight. There’s empathy here, even when he explains why his weapon of choice is a hammer. Joe’s powder keg existence edges closer to the fuse when he takes the case of a New York senator whose daughter has been pushed into the sex trade.
Where the plot takes the reader, as riveting and bracing as it is, is not going to be spoiled for the sake of a review but I urge fans of hardboiled fiction to devour this brutal novella in one sitting. It bristles with literary energy and a diseased heart in the same way that Ross Macdonald and Dashiell Hammett mastered before him. Every line of line dialogue snaps like a junkie heartbeat, grasping at you and pulling you down a rabbit hole of vice. Ames’ urgency will disarm you.
And when his narrative stops on a dime after an ice-cold 97 pages, you’re left wanting more. More action. More answers. More Joe. Here’s hoping that Joe’s story gets expanded in the years to come. Jack Reacher, Sam Spade, Lew Archer and Mike Hammer have just found a new contender for pulp fiction’s most searing protagonist (or is it antagonist?).
Pick up the brilliant You Were Never Really Here in a great new, expanded edition from the ever-amazing Pushkin Press on their Pushkin Vertigo crime series.