Written by David James Keaton — American indie publisher Broken River Books has received a good deal of critical acclaim for the books it has published over the last couple of years, building up an impressive backlist featuring some of the best of the new wave of crime fiction writers like Jedidiah Ayres (Fierce Bitches, Peckerwood) and Stephen Graham Jones. They are authors who are not afraid to mix things up a little bit and we loved Adam Cesare’s The First One You Expect when we reviewed it earlier this year, for its exciting blend of horror and crime.
Now we have The Last Projector, his debut novel. It follows his collection of short stories Fish Bites Cop!, which garnered praise from lots of different areas, including the science fiction and horror communities. The novel’s narrator is Larry, who has 10 years of experience directing pornography. Larry is something of a perfectionist and is becoming increasingly concerned about the declining standards of the adult movie world. There used to be a time when a little bit of effort and imagination went into the films’ titles, but nowadays they are all just puns on the latest Hollywood movies. Kindergarten Cock, for instance. Likewise their used to be an art to finding a great porn name but Larry’s latest star has called him Joe F**k.
Even worse are the tattoos that his actors get. How is an artist supposed to achieve continuity when every day somebody comes to the set with new ink, some tribal markings, or worst of all, the name of a lover? At least Larry can console himself with an off-the-books real movie that he has been shooting at night, guerrilla-style. It’s titled Strange Gloves, and stars his porn talent playing paramedics called Jack and Rick who save a girl following a traffic accident.
No wait, scratch that. The Last Projector is narrated by Jack, a serving paramedic slowly coming off the rails. Seven years ago, Jack and Rick were first responders to a car crash, but it was apparent the accident occurred some time prior to their arrival. Time enough, Jack believes, for the surviving girl, Jacki Ramirez, to have been raped by an opportunist passing by. Jack decides to remove what he considers to be the evidence of rape, reasoning that the girl will have no recollection of it having happened, and if nobody else finds out, his actions will erase the crime as if it never happened , sparing Jacki from further trauma. Now though, his belief is that Jacki’s attacker has become emboldened by not being caught and has become a serial rapist, and his guilt is making him increasingly erratic.
Oh, wait… again. Actually, Keaton’s novel is narrated by Billy and Bully, two teenage domestic terrorists whose chance encounter with Officer Bigby, sorry Officer Bigbee, or should that be Bigbeep, has led these teenage lovebirds to hatch a plan of revenge upon the canine unit of the LAPD. But Billy is increasingly uncomfortable as Bully’s agenda ratchets up from simple harassment to murder.
Somehow, the fates of these different individuals will become intertwined in an explosive finale at the final remaining drive-in cinema, the Sundance. Or perhaps it’s called the Billy the Kid, I’m not sure.
This is certainly a confusing novel. It is long, some 500-plus pages, has multiple narratives, that seem at times to merge fantasy with reality, and skips forwards and backwards in time. I’m not going to claim I understood it all, and, particularly early on, it is really quite confusing. However, readers who persevere are rewarded at the end with a fine emotional resolution which made me think about how a single action can change everything. Getting to that point is frustrating at times, but there is also a great deal of humour, wit and invention displayed along the way.
A novel this strange is almost critic-proof and I couldn’t say which genre it belongs in (perhaps its own), but if it sounds like it’s for you, then I urge you to give it a try.
Broken River Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars