Publish Date: 13th December, 2014
Source: Amazon, $1.20 AU.
Pages: 36 pages (the Amazon page says so; the text I read was longer on my Kindle.)
Synopsis: Snorky’s Moll is a ghost story. It’s also a love story, a story of deceit and revenge – the dish, as it’s said, that’s best served cold. Although it’s a ghost story, you won’t find bed linen that suddenly starts to float around a room scaring innocent chamber maids, nor ghouls manifesting themselves because dorky teenagers have found a mysterious artefact which they begin to misuse. Nope, none of that here, I’m afraid. But there is a picture. A photograph of a woman staring out at you. Why is she so beguiling? Who was she? What did she do? And… who’s the guy sitting close by? (Source: Amazon product description).
Short version: A little story but a great read, and strangely fun, given the topic…
Longer version: Since writer Nigel Edwards (listed as N G Edwards on the E-book sleeve) isn’t keen on revealing the identity of “Snorky” on his own synopsis of Snorky’s Moll, I supposed I shouldn’t spoil things. (If you’re the type who loves a good spoiler, “Snorky” and “Google” go together quite nicely.)
What I think I can reveal in fairness to the synopsis is this great hook of an opening line:
“I’d been married to Celia for more than fifteen years when I decided to kill her.”
If it’s not already obvious by way of his opening statement – the narrator of this story, Joe, is a Grade-A arsehole. Apart from his willingness to “ice” his wife (usually not a positive character trait) Joe is arrogant, vain and bigoted (“what is it with eye-ties and the letter ‘o’?” he laments at one point early on.)
Edwards gives Joe such a strong narrative voice, that for all his murderous intent and arrogant ways, he’s actually likeable in an odd kind of way. Slight wobbles of English like “I got my first heart attack” really bring him to life as a man who might be business-savvy, but not particularly sharp at just about everything else (he genuinely can’t understand how he can “take it easy” after multiple heart attacks, but also go for a walk every now and again.)
But he is also a man with vulnerable spots – a man who genuinely does seem wounded by his wife spurning him, a man who pays a prostitute an extra fifty dollars so others will think he “lasted longer” with her, a man who seems delighted that a woman named Julia is so into him, even if she may not, strictly-speaking, be real. He is intimate, almost affectionate toward the reader:
“I found a photograph. Not of Celia, but of someone I didn’t know. What’s so crazy about that? I’ll tell you…”
And he does – completely and intriguingly. Initially I didn’t pay much attention to the book’s cover – this was an E-book format, after all. Looking back to it halfway through reading, I realised that the photograph he mentions forms the front cover of the book. Look carefully and you might see a clue or two.
Both Edwards’ descriptions and his dialogue are, for the most part, rock-steady – enough that it was only after reading that I realised he isn’t an American writer (but then, I’m not an American reader.) Little hints in the narrative like his explaining that “cabbie” was an expression he picked up in London are nice little nods toward the author’s origins without being overbearing.
The dialogue, too, is splendid, not just in its colour, but in its scope and range. With perhaps a stranger’s ear for it, Edwards draws subtle but careful distinctions between the dialogue of different characters, from Italian-American Celia to 1920’s moll Julia, right down to a random modern-day taxi-driver who shows the protagonist around Chicago for a scene that only lasts half a page.
The characterisation of Snorky’s Moll herself – Julia – was particularly inspired, and Edwards’ control of both his POV character and the focus of the piece were probably what held it together the best. The protagonist is undoubtedly attracted to this vision, and vice-versa – they have sex together in the back of a cab. But one of his initial observations of Julia was that she was not really pretty – mouth too wide, nose too long – and, particularly delightfully, that she ate bratwurst and onions and:
“…the way she ate reminded me of a dog snuffling after food in its dish.”
I like this writer.
I like him a lot.
And the woman’s unattractive eating habits speak to more than her own character. Such scenes are part of the way Edwards textures his novel with vibrant detail, both modern and historical. A fashionable young woman who’d dream of eating something as heart-attack-inducing as greasy sausage in public? We’re not in the twenty-first century anymore. It contrasts starkly with earlier mentions of the society beauty Celia, with her “white diamond caviar and blue lobster.”
Edwards plays fast and loose with history in Julia’s explanation of exactly why the protagonist needs to kill his wife, but the casual reader won’t notice and the more informed one probably won’t care. This is a work of fiction, not a textbook.
With some elements that are inevitable and some that are completely unexpected, the last scene is real ignore-the-phone reading, with a final line that I love more than is probably healthy.
Definitely worth the read.