"...those who enjoy the darker side of the genre are in for some serious thrills with this..."
Laura Wilson, The Guardian
Published in the UK by Polygon (March 19th, '09) and in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Nov '09).
24 hours to kill by james mckimmey
Reviewed by Andrew Jamieson
"All you do is sit down in this chair. I’m putting the pistol on the desk in front of you. The safety’s off. Watch Kelty. If he tries anything, pick up the gun and point it in his direction and start pulling the trigger."
They don’t write them quite like this anymore. For style and story, this is a particularly refreshing read. It’s a slice of time, a window onto the places and people of Sixties America, and as such it has a vintage feel to the prose.
A number of overlapping plotlines converge on the small township of Blue Valley, which has been isolated by a disastrous flooding. Steve Michaels is the gruff, well-to-do hero of the piece, a man with a chequered past, a former bad apple gone good via the U.S. Marine Corps, and now working as a teacher. He’s engaged to Sue Blake, an archetypal template of a modern woman, independent, yet caring, loving, and supportive. Sue is the daughter of Blue Valley’s mayor, Ben Blake, a huffing and puffing, successful entrepreneur.
Stuck in Blue Valley is Jack Kelty, a youthful villain under the custody of the weary Inspector Al Duggan. Martin Hillary, a manipulative and glory-seeking journalist, and a champion of Kelty, has followed Duggan into Blue Valley, and he in turn has been followed by a carload of youths, devotees of Kelty, lured by his tearaway image, intent on springing their idol from confinement.
So, with the stage set, the components slide into place. Major characters die unexpectedly, events twist and turn, the characters bicker and argue, regrettable actions are committed and little by little the reader is sent hurtling towards an impressive, page-turning finale.
When the late, great John D. MacDonald granted James McKimmey his blessing of a quote (this man can manipulate tension and character in ways that are beginning to alarm me), which first appeared on the back cover of this book, he knew exactly what he was talking about. McKimmey expertly, and with some degree of subtlety, cranks up the tension to boiling point and the fast-paced ending reflects this.
He has a great style, very smooth and sure, although slightly antiquated at times – particularly noticeable in some of the otherwise excellent dialogue exchanges (conversation between Sue and Steve springs to mind). This is never problematic enough to distract from the quality that is clearly evident in this author’s writing. It takes a few chapters for the plot to completely grip, but as the flood hits and disaster ensues, the tension and drama compels those pages to turn.
I could imagine this book to have been a fine film adaptation, the genius of Robert Mitchum playing Steve Michaels, Shirley MacLaine as Sue, directed by the stylistic powerhouse Nicholas Ray. That would have been some film.
And therein lies the beauty of McKimmey’s writing. It’s very evocative, lyrical at times, and is, most importantly, one hell of a good read.
Copyright© 2004 Andrew Jamieson
ANDREW JAMIESON was born in Derby in December 1977, just in time for breakfast. He discovered a love for storytelling and writing from a young age and read and read and still reads. He is educated to degree level. His favourite colour is midnight-blue. His favourite fruit is the Fuji apple. His favourite author is Barry Gifford. He has written two feature-length screenplays. The first, terrible. The second, slightly less terrible. He is now concentrating on his first novel. It might be terrible.