Ryan David Jahn- The Dispatcher/Low Life/Acts of Violence


Ian Hunt is the police dispatcher for the small town of Bulls Mouth, East Texas. Just as his shift is ending he gets a call from his fourteen-year-old daughter, Maggie. Maggie, who has just been declared dead, having been snatched from her bedroom seven years ago. Her call ends in a scream. The trail leads to a local couple, but this is just the start of his battle to get his daughter back. What follows is a bullet-strewn cross-country chase along Interstate 10, from Texas to California. The riveting new novel from the acclaimed author of Acts of Violence and Low Life is a brilliantly original, blood drenched thriller, about the lengths a man will go to for his daughter.


Well- what can I say? The genius of Jahn is in evidence again in this new thriller which again is distinctly different to his first two books. In a lesser author’s hand this could easily have been boxed in with the Harlan Cobens and Linwood Barclays but thanks to Jahn’s depth of characterisation this is altogether a more meaningful read. I loved some of his little descriptive flourishes e.g ‘He sat there motionless, his mind a room without any furniture in it’ and the sheer wretchedness of emotion that Ian Hunt goes through with his trail of broken relationships, his physical and mental turmoil, the disappearance of his daughter and the breaking of his own personal moral codes in his desperation to get her back. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked anyone as much as Henry Dean, a sadistic man who feeds off the weakness of his wife Beatrice to justify his inborn propensity for violence and his utter disregard for those he perceives as getting in his way.
I liked the little sparks of wit punctuating the novel as in Ian’s interaction with the buxom gun store owner who said that any relationship between them would be ‘like a teddy bear trying to cuddle dynamite’ and how ‘a hatchet isn’t exactly a precision tool’ whilst hacking away at somebody’s toes.
As always with Jahn and his background as a film-maker the setting and episodic nature of the novel would easily lend itself to a movie and it does have a very Coen-esque smalltown feel to it with the extreme evil of Dean pitted against the morally tortured Hunt (great character name as this is his raison de-etre during the course of the book).
A powerful and affecting book that rises above the bog standard thriller and really does investigate the symbiosis of good and evil at the heart of the human condition.

When Simon Johnson is attacked in his crummy LA apartment, he knows he must defend himself or die. Turning on the lights after the scuffle, Simon realises two things: one, he has killed his attacker; two, the resemblance of the man to himself is uncanny. Over the coming days, Simon’s lonely life will spiral out of control. With his pet goldfish Francine in tow, he embarks on a gripping existential investigation, into his own murky past, and that of Jeremy Shackleford, the (apparently) happily married math teacher whose body is now lying in Simon’s bathtub under forty gallons of ice. But Simon has a plan. Gradually, he begins to assume the dead man’s identity, fooling Shackleford’s colleagues, and even his beautiful wife. However, when mysterious messages appear on the walls around Simon’s apartment, he realises that losing his old self will be more difficult than he’d imagined. Everything points to a long forgotten date the previous spring, when his life and Shackleford’s first collided. As the contradictions mount, and the ice begins to melt, the events of the past year will resolve themselves in the most catastrophic way…

Following the success of the mesmerising ‘Acts of Violence’ , Jahn’s attempt at that tricky second novel does not disappoint. In ‘Low Life’ the reader is drawn into a twisting, psychological mystery, as we follow the mental and physical breakdown of an unassuming individual seemingly adrift in society. Simon Johnson believes that he has brutally murdered an intruder who is his physical double, leading him into a chain of events that are perfectly Hitchcockian in their rendition reflecting Jahn’s filmaking roots. A smarter than average crime thriller that seeks to unsettle and challenge the reader at every turn.

Katrina Marino is about to become America’s most infamous murder victim. This is Katrina’s story, and the story of her killer. It is also the story of Katrina’s neighbours, those who witnessed her murder and did nothing: the terrified Vietnam draftee; the woman who thinks she’s killed a child, and her husband who will risk everything for the truth; the former soldier planning suicide and the man who saves him. And others whose lives are touched by the crime: the elderly teacher whose past is catching up with him; the amateur blackmailer who’s about to find out just what sort of people he’s been threatening; the corrupt cop who believes he is God’s ‘red right hand’. Shocking and compassionate, angry and gripping, Acts of Violence is a sprawling, cinematic tour-de-force, a terrifying crime novel unlike any other…

I absolutely loved this fictional interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the real life murder of Kitty Genovese and the whole fleshing out of ‘bystander theory’ that this case sparked in the US. I thought the construction of the lives of the residents of the apartment block was exceptional, providing perfect vignettes of the struggles both moral and physical of these people unknowingly a hairs breadth away from the scene of an horrific crime. Their reticence to intervene in this crime was perfectly pitched because I think all of us have at some time ignored a scream in the night putting it down to tricks of the imagination or someone else’s problem. The unfolding of the murder was strategically placed in the timeline of the book and as a reader I felt increasingly anxious as these events unfolded but equally as curious to get back to the onlookers and the minutiae of their lives. A literary crime thriller that is begging to be made into a film!

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