If you found yourself out on bail waiting trial for a murder you didn’t commit you’d think it would be hard for things to get much worse. Of course, you’re not nineteen-year-old Brendan Fishback.
After a night of partying Brendan woke up in a motel room to find his companion dead, apparently from a drug overdose. Unfortunately for him the girl, Ashleigh Sizemore, was the daughter of the wealthiest man in their little town of Umpire, Tennessee. Eager to please the town big shot, the police seem content to pin the death on Brendan, especially after some highly potent angel dust is found hidden in the room.
Now out on bail and not optimistic about his chances at trial, Brendan heads out to Lake Charles with his twin sister, Edna, and best friend, Cobb, for what may be his last hurrah as a free man. While Brendan and Cobb try their luck bass fishing, Edna strikes out on her jet ski. When she doesn’t return as dusk begins to fall the guys go looking for her. After coming up empty in their search of the lake they return to shore and begin scouring the shoreline on foot.
Instead of finding Edna, however, they stumble into a clandestine marijuana growing operation, and the two heavily armed men guarding it. A shootout ensues during which Brendan is hit and one of the marijuana growers is killed. Suddenly what began as an afternoon out to celebrate his remaining freedom has turned into a life or death struggle and race against the clock to find Edna, whom Brendan and Cobb now fear has fallen into the drug gang’s hands.
Author Ed Lynskey has crafted a taut tale of murder, drugs, corruption, and small town politics in Lake Chrales, one which finds the painfully naïve Brendan knocked off his feet and swept along in its crushing assault. Not sadistic enough to stack the deck completely against Brendan, Lynskey provides him an ally in the form of Cobb’s father, Jerry, a decorated military veteran and former intelligence operative who’s not above dishing out a little Walking Tall style justice. As their search for Edna unfolds they learn things which lead them to believe something more sinister than simple backwoods pot growing is occurring, and that Ashleigh Sizemore’s death may in fact be related to the goings on out at Lake Charles.
Though Lake Charles is undeniably noir, it’s also a bit of a coming of age story. As the brutal events unfold Brendan is forced to make tough choices and mature beyond his years virtually overnight. Along the way he learns things about himself and his character he never knew existed. The book’s setting is wonderfully evocative, and Lynskey has done a masterful job of painting a vivid picture of a place that could only exist in the Great Smoky Mountains of Umpire, Tennessee in 1979. I can’t say that I’d ever want to actually visit there in real life, but I can definitely recommend you take a fictional journey to Lake Charles — EAW
Lake Charles is available from Wildside Press (ISBN: 978-1434430465).