The main character (and the most terrifying) in Jack O’Connell’s books is not a person, it’s a place. Quinsigamond, a post-industrial New England city, where derelict warehouses, porn theatres and run-down apartment blocks are home to gangland crime, drug lords and dreamers whose hopes are giving way to despair.
But O’Connell’s books are not your standard hardboiled noir. They have all the intensity of a nightmare, peopled by the insane, fuelled by hallucinations. The books feel set in an alternative universe, similar to our own but distorted like a funfair hall of mirrors.
In ‘Box Nine’, for example, a synthetic drug called Lingo allows its users to speak and read at 1,500 words a minute. Addicts enjoy giddiness, sexual ecstasy… and savage rage. The consequences are horrendous. If, as William Burroughs believed, language is a virus, then Lingo is an executioner.
Violence is unremitting: Quinsigamond is the last stop before the end of the world. But the power of the writing and the apocalyptic narrative make O’Connell a discovery never to be forgotten.
Emil Kofta extends his arms over the counter… putting nine lead-tipped rounds into Sweet Jane’s head and chest… Hank Hrabel and Vera Gottwald line up next to Kofta and turn the transvestite’s body into the most prestigious target in this surreal shooting gallery. When the trio’s magazines are emptied, Jane Firbank is an unrecognisable mess of shredded flesh and bone wrapped in the remnants of Barbara Stanwyck’s pajamas. *
* The Skin Palace