Richard Thomas’ new novel, Disintegration, is called a ‘Windy Dark City Mystery’. That alone suggests that the book is a dark ride into the streets of Chicago. If you don’t know the city that well, don’t worry, Thomas will explain it to you with every bit of detail that you need to know, from the bars that turn into haunts to the drops of blood that form wedges in the concrete pavement.
In the novel, Thomas pays homage to the writers that inspired him. His narrator is a man who has lost his family in a car crash and been sucked into the criminal underworld. Although this man doesn’t get to partake in the high up lavishes, and he has no mob wife to keep quiet while he eats lobster for breakfast and champagne for dinner. This is a man who carries out hits, chugs beers and is addicted to some unspecified pharmaceuticals, a man who is trying to keep his head above water the only way he knows how, he’s reaching out for help but he may as well just be trying to pull the whole world down with him.
It’s a lonely mission, and every time we are introduced to someone we are left with more questions than we had before. Take Vlad, the narrator’s employer, for example. How pure are his intentions? Who are these women that wonder in and out of this dark Chicago lifestyle, leaving nothing but broken bones, bottles and hearts?
As the city gets colder, the snow begins to hide the bodies that are piling up on the streets. No-one can really notice that the low-lifes are disappearing, save for the blood that leaks through the snow. This isn’t a novel that deals with the world we know. If it is, I’m very sorry. Thomas shows us a world that may well exist, but through some sort of denial or blindness, we never see it in real life. That being said, this isn’t just a novel about sinister things happening in Chicago, it’s about what happens to a person when everything they have is stripped away from them until that raw core of despair, heartbreak and anger is the only guiding force that they have left. It’s about how far somebody will go to try to keep themselves together when everything they know has fallen apart.
Disintegration is a dark and beautiful novel. Once the reader is familiar with the shadowy world that Thomas creates, the story really takes on a life of its own. The world gets bleaker, until we’re not sure who to trust, who is telling the truth and who deserves to live or die. Richard Thomas manages to create a novel that, while unsettlingly edgy, relies on far more than just that to remain consistently entertaining.
It’s a novel that shows an accumulation of all the skills he’s learned across his career, paying homage to his influences, but also politely nudging them aside so he can become the influence of other writers.
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