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Oddfellows - Jack Dickson
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The first Jack Dickson novel, written before his Jas Anderson trilogy, Freeform, Some Kind of Love, and Banged Up. As you know if you follow our reviews, Cerisaye and I adored the Jas Anderson novels. Banged Up actually kept me up all night (so to speak) and gave me nightmares. Wonderful, wonderful writing.
So, it was with some trepidation I bought Oddfellows. How could anything be as good?
Well, there are some novels that push all the right buttons. There are some that create buttons you didn’t know you were missing and THEN push them. This is one of those books.
Set in Glasgow again, the hero this time is Joe, ex-army soldier dishonourably discharged, now working as a bouncer in the nightclub The Matrix. He’s also living with the boss, “King” Billy.
This novel is about power and need. Joe and Billy have an abusive relationship based on power and the fulfilment of twisted need. Joe is trapped by his nature, helpless to help himself until one day Billy goes too far—but not with Joe, with a 14-year-old boy.
Joe’s reaction to this incident sets in motion a fearful train of events, which is told in a relentless, compelling style. Dickson’s style (which he uses throughout the Jas Anderson novels) is sometimes more like a punch than writing. You are battered with harsh words; scenes play out in strobe lighting of language that hides, yet at the same time illuminates, the horror unfolding. This novel isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s got rape, under-age sex, blood, bondage and incest. But it’s the least exploitative novel I’ve ever read. It’s raw and honest.
I could not put this book down; I doubt you will either.
If you read any author from our list, read Jack Dickson.
This book left me feeling turned inside out, washed and hung up to dry. Emotionally drained and mentally exhausted. And I loved every minute of it.
Since finishing the Jas Anderson trilogy something has been lacking in my life. Dickson’s books are powerful and intense, an experience like no other. A bit like the Atkins diet: tastey, full-fat, and so filling it shouldn’t be good for you, eliminating the refined sugar and bulk most writers rely on to make sympathetic characters and sell books. Like Atkins, the books don’t suit all tastes. And you might wonder about longterm damage to your psyche and soul. Severe withdrawal also a problem.
Maybe it’s the language, harsh Glaswegian dialect, and spare, inside-the-head style of writing, with stripped-down prose. His talent for unlikely romantic heroes. Or is it the steamy sex?
Dickson specialises in hard men, damaged and emotionally repressed, afraid or unable to love, lacking the words to express their feelings. Big men with powerful bodies yet so vulnerable you want to cuddle them, say it’s okay and offer a shoulder to cry on. All the while maintaining prurient interest in their sex lives.
You do not want to be spoiled so don’t read the blurb on the back cover as it contains a stonking plot detail you shouldn’t know before you have to.
Set in 1996, this is the story of Joe Macdonald, ex Royal Engineer. Dishonourable discharge, 9 months in Colchester military prison. Joe reminded me of Chino, Patricia Nell Warren’s Viet Nam vet from The Front Runner trilogy. Like Chino, Joe is FUBAR (fucked up beyond repair). The army was his life, and when it’s taken away he struggles to survive, unable to cope with normal civilian life. Joe’s got good reason to be angry and bitter but we’re well into the story before we get all the details.
Joe is taken in by Glasgow entrepreneur Billy King, given a job as a bouncer in one of his nightclubs and a place in his bed in his fancy Merchant City flat. Joe reckons he owes Billy for saving his life but Billy’s generosity carries a price.
Billy’s thing is power. Joe needs to be looked after, told what to do, removed of all responsibility for his actions, because of what happened in the past. Billy must control and dominate, have a man totally dependent on him, a master and his willing slave.
When another bouncer, Georgie Paxton, is murdered, Joe is dragged into the police investigation because of a bust-up with him the night before. His carefully ordered world starts to fall apart. The only ray of light is handsome policeman Andy Hunter who takes personal interest in Joe’s case. Is Andy looking for a fast track to promotion, or is he interested in Joe for another reason?
Meanwhile Joe struggles to help Angie, his brother Michael’s widow, whose teen-age son Sean is running off the rails. Michael was Joe’s childhood hero and they were close, more than most brothers. Sean looks up to Joe, but the boy is a handful. Can Joe be there for Sean, as Michael was for him?
Graphically described hot, hard man-sex, where sweat and semen drip from the page. Sadomasochism, child abuse and incest. A web of violence, jealousy and murder. Not easy reading, but if you’ve the stomach for it Joe’s story will melt your bones and break your heart. Truly an astonishing debut novel, and you can see the genesis of Jas and his world in its pages.
Disturbing but essential reading. Just don’t expect to sleep soundly straight after.
Dickson is a genius.
Few books we’ve read pack Dickson’s emotional punch. I finished the book in less than a day, compelled to read on. There’s no complacency with Dickson’s novels. No guarantee of a happy conclusion
Buy Oddfellows from Amazon here