‘Battering the Stem’ is a hard-boiled novella the likes of which I haven’t read in some time. Though perhaps not my usual read, I do enjoy dark, crime fiction as a change from my usual diet of horror. Bob Freville is a new author to me but one that I will be keen on reading more from in the future.
A little word of warning: I was quite taken back by the narrative style initially. It’s very in-your-face and can seem quite confronting but it’s entirely necessary I believe for the type of gritty, violent story that unfolds. If you ever watched ‘ The Wire’ and enjoyed it then I strongly recommend reading this as Freville’s street dialect is reminiscent of the show. Freville introduces us to a cast of characters working in a soul food diner in Brooklyn and the bloody turn of events that follow. The diner holds many secrets which reveal themselves quickly as the story unfolds though it is the characters that drive this story. Each of these characters comes to life in very few pages. Edgerin is one of the central characters; a bit of a street bum, a beggar if you like that harasses the workers in the diner, but Edgerin is also an opportunist as you will see when the story unfolds. The other characters are also authentic, brilliantly portrayed not only due to their actions but in the way they converse with each other. Freville’s dialogue is snappy, precise and realistic, often amusing, making the story so much more believable. I will admit that I had to read some of the conversations twice as the street-talk took me a bit of getting used to, but in all honesty it’s one of the things that makes this novella stand out from other crime books, and let’s be honest, It’s a competitive market out there so your game has got to be tight.
After the cast is revealed the pacing is electric and It’s during the final third of the book when things really come to life. The ending is superb. I really didn’t see it coming at all and to be honest it left me with a real big grin on my face, so well-played Mr Freville, well-played.
‘Battering the Stem’ isn’t going to be a New York Times Bestseller. It’s too gritty, too dark and transgressive for most readers of high-street crime fiction and the dialogue makes you work, but for those out there that enjoy dark stories, dripping with grime, bacon fat and violence, this is the book for you. It is also at times very funny and I highly recommend it to readers looking for something different.
Pick up a copy from here.