THE MURDERER VINE
By Shepard Rifkin
Hard Case Crime
This is one hell of a good book. Unlike a lot of crime titles that aspire to the label of noire, this one delivers. It is a hard edged, brutal look at
Joe Dunne is a Korean War veteran who makes a decent living as a private eye in
Dunne meticulously plans the assignment by creating a bogus identity for himself and Kirby, who has convinced him to bring her along as proper Southern camouflage. She is not aware of his actual mission and assumes he’s only looking for the murderers. Of course once they arrive in the sleepy little community of Okalusa, Dunne must play the part of a bigot to ingratiate himself with the suspects, one of which is the town’s redneck sheriff. It is a repulsive role and he despises himself for having to assume it. Through Kirby, Dunne sees the South as it truly is, a divided land still nursing its wounds from a hundred year old war with the North.
Rifkin captures the atmosphere of the times perfectly and although it was easy to see the tragic ending half way through the book, that is what noir is all about. Noir stories are about being trapped on a runaway train whose tracks go off the cliff. You see the wreck coming and there’s nothing you, or the protagonist, can do about it. Noir is being a victim of fate and that’s the tragedy of Joe Dunne. It’s a fate he chose for himself.
This is one of the finest noir thrillers ever penned. Kudos to Hard Case Crime for bringing it back. It deserves a huge audience.