What Julie Morrigan does really well, exceptionally well, is structure her stories. There is never a spare word, or a redundant description in her prose. And she conjures the menace native to her fiction with ease from precise physical description.
‘I know how many legs you can take off a spider without crippling it, I know four different ways to set fire to ants.’
These lines, from the opening and brilliant story ‘Searching’, set the tone for what is essentially a tight collection of nuggets from the woman many say writes like a man. That may be an inherently sexist remark, however she does demonstrate a tough lack of sentiment that has no doubt given rise to the comparison.
Her narrative voice is intimate at times, and real. She also writes superb dialogue, including dialect. These stories are peopled with well drawn low lifes, smart asses you just know are going to get it, drop outs and losers in the best Noir tradition. And they are her characters, not the derivatives of someone else’s imagination.
Morrigan is a keen observer of people, as her descriptions of the interchanges between these men and woman shows. She is also bloody funny. There is a subtle watchfulness in her narratives that allows for many sharp edged ironies:
‘Cherry loved Dolly Parton. One night when we were heading out to a pub in the arse
end of nowhere, Dolly came on the radio singing ‘Jolene’. Cherry sang along with her
at the top of her voice, the music making her right foot heavy. We sped on through
the night, the eyes of startled small animals reflecting the headlights, although
mercifully she eased up a little once the song finished.
‘I fucking love a good sing-along, me,’ she announced. I knew. I’d heard her sing
many times during our journeys. All sorts of shit, all at the top of her voice. She
reckoned it warmed her up for the gig. ‘Not sure about that song, mind.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, if Devlin was talking about some bitch in his sleep, I’d fucking kill him. I
wouldn’t be begging her not to take my man, either. I’d bat her in the gob then cut his
cock off and stuff it up her arse.’
These lines are taken from ‘Devlin, Me and Cherry B.’
There is a recurrent drugged sense of individuals compulsively deluding themselves their lives are not shit and they are going to make it that delivers the sense of having already lost like a killer punch. Aspirations are talked about with the braggadocio native to losers everywhere. And you know these people are trapped in their lives as they swim like bloated goldfish to the side of the bowl and tell us their yarns.
The stories move between the harshly comical and despairing, to the dark and violent. ‘The Sins Of The Father’ is a dark portrait of religious abuse.
Morrigan is brilliant at punch lines, and her use of them gives her stories that tightness that is one of their strengths. ‘Closing Time’ contains a detailed description of a drunk man who turns out to be the narrator’s father. She draws the reader into the characters’ world while maintaining detachment. ‘Pick A Pig Night’ is full of Morrigan’s sardonic humour. It nudges a scalpel into the games and lies that imbue gender role play.
If you want sharp, well drawn characters, stories written tightly and each sketching a small world you can step inside, if you want to read well drawn portraits of the kind of men and women who people the pages of crime fiction, then buy Gone Bad now.
Julie Morrigan lives by the seaside in the north east of England. Her stories have appeared in a number of publications, both print and online, including Out of the Gutter, Thrillers, Killers and Chillers and A Twist of Noir. Her books are available from Amazon, Smashwords and other outlets. You can find her online at http://www.juliemorrigan.co.uk/.