Hell On Church Street by Jake Hinkson

Hell on Church Street by Jake Hinkson. 2012. French title: L’enfer de Church Street. (translated by Sophie Aslanides)

Hinkson_churchI purchased Hell on Church Street at Quais du Polar as I was intrigued by the writer and it’s published by Gallmeister which is starting to be a way to pick American literature with eyes closed and without thinking. Remember what I wrote then: In the booklet advertising Quais du Polar, each author presents themselves with a short biography and mentions their favourite book, film and writer. Jake Hinkson said that he was raised by Christian fundamentalists in the mountains in Arkansas, that he used to snuggle banned crime fiction books in Bible camp. He added that if Jim Thompson had knocked up Flannery O’Connor in a sleazy motel in Ozark, he’d be their offspring.

The starting point of Hell on Church Street is original. We have a typical ex-con trying to lie low in a job but his temper gets the better of him. He needs to get away from town and decides to steal a car at a gas station. He chooses Geoffrey Webb’s car because all he sees is a fat man unable to fight back. It’s an easy theft. Fatal mistake.

Geoffrey Web has nothing to lose and he needs to unburden his conscience. While he drives with the man’s gun pointed at him, he locks hard to the left and makes his aggressor understand that he too has their lives between his hands. He starts bargaining: if he lets him drive them both to Little Rock, Arkansas and tell his story, he will give him the three thousand dollars he has in his wallet. The ex-con accepts the deal and Geoffrey Webb starts talking. He will relate a tale of sex, murder and criminality set in the community of the Higher Living Baptist Church in the southwest section of Little Rock.

Hinson_Hell_churchGeoffrey is hired as the youth minister of the church and he’s a perfect psycho Tartuffe. He spouts on passages of the Bible like he means them while he actually recites them as a salesman delivers their pitch. He’s the kind of youth minister who blabbers chaste messages about love, Jesus and being good while keeping porn tapes for his evening fun and lusting after the pastor’s teenage daughter.

When Father Card, the pastor of this church hired Webb, he didn’t realize he was letting a wolf enter into the sheepfold. Geoffrey Webb is not only a nut job, he’s also a ticking bomb waiting to explode. And all it takes is a threat issued by the local sheriff and his pushing Webb to do something illegal to set everything in motion.

I don’t want to tell too much about the plot. I always try harder than usual to avoid spoilers in crime fiction billets. You’ll have to discover the rest by yourself.

I was warned that Jake Hinkon’s books were known to be violent. Well, Hell on Church Street is violent but not more than Drive by James Sallis or The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Hinkson respects the codes of the genre. The originality of his novel is the setting and the relentless vitriolic remarks he makes about the Higher Living Baptist Church. He portrays a hypocrite being accepted in the community as long as he says the right things and apparently behaves with propriety. He destroys the illusion that with people, what you see is what you get –if anyone still nurtured that illusion. He shows power games within the community leaders and how people who think they are holier than the Pope –well, not exactly since they wouldn’t want to be associated with the Pope or any papist—are actually very common people with any many flaws as anyone.

I had a good time reading Hell on Church Street. Hinkon’s style is punchy and even if it wasn’t always comfortable to be in Webb’s head, it was a hell of a journey.

  1. April 23, 2015 at 2:10 am

    I am trying to be pickier about the crime books I read so I’ll probably pass on this one due to the religious stuff. I might check out his other titles though.

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    • April 24, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      I haven’t looked at his other titles. I hope they’re not all in a church environment. That was good for one book but once the surprise is over, I’m not sure it can be repeated several times successfully.

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  2. April 23, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Great write-up, Emma. I have Drive in my TBR, along with Jim Thompson’s The Grifters, so I ought to read those novels first before considering any others in a similar vein. It’s good to hear about the Hinkson though as I wasn’t familiar with his work.

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    • April 24, 2015 at 8:52 pm

      He’s only published a few books.
      I haven’t read the Grifters but I’m almost certain that Guy has reviewed it. (There are several posts about J Thompson on his blog)

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  3. April 23, 2015 at 11:15 am

    The plot of this book sounds so interesting and creative. The characters, while you describe them as rough and dark, seem like those that I like to read about.

    I have been getting a bit squeamish about violence so that might be an issue for me.

    Great commentary as always Emma.

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    • April 24, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      It’s a great starting point, I think.
      It’s violent but it’s not minutely detailed, so it helps. What I really can’t stand is violence on children.

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  4. April 24, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    It sounds rather good. Will you read more by him do you think? It definitely sounds punchy.

    Larry Niven, mostly famous for his SF, had a short story where a guy is held up in his car by a gunman but then pretends he was on his way to commit suicide. They have a tense stand (sit) off as the gunman holds the gun on the driver, while the driver accelerates and talks about wanting to die and how he’d love to take somebody with him.

    There really is a moral here somewhere about choosing your carjacking victims carefully.

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    • April 24, 2015 at 9:04 pm

      What a great story. Maybe Jake Hinkson knew about it. I liked the idea of the “arroseur arrosé” as we say in French. (which means, according to the dictionary “the biter bit”)

      If you want to be a criminal, at least do it properly, right? 🙂

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