Hell on Church Street by Jake Hinkson

13418228Geoffrey Webb pulls into a convenience store and comes out to a gun pressed against him. He’s forced into his car and taken for a ride while the stickup artist decides what to do with his victim. Geoffrey is a mess of a man, clearly given up on taking care of himself, allowing him to take control of the situation by not being able to be manipulated. Firstly, Webb himself, is a smooth talker. Secondly, he’s a man that just doesn’t care what happens. So, Webb soon turns the tables on the man with the gun and then begins his story.

Geoffrey’s life serves as the second act of the novel, but that second act takes up the majority of the book. Webb is able to work his way into an Arkansas church, serving as their youth leader. He quickly becomes obsessed with the teenaged daughter of the church pastor. There’s a plot embezzle money belonging to the church and a crazy hillbilly family. Please, allow me to be clear. “Crazy hillbilly family” is what sold me on getting and reading this book, so I was super excited when they showed up.

Otherwise, the plot sounds incredibly convoluted. The power of Hinkson’s writing proves that, despite the convoluted plot points sounding even stranger when lumped together, Jake is able to weave together a fairly strong plot that advances at a solid pace. He takes all of those keywords and plot twists and tells a story that is dark and violent. He’s able to make such an absurd sequence of events and explain them through emotion and action such that the advancement of the story isn’t as crazy as one once may have thought.

The problem that Hell on Church Street suffers from is this A-B-A story structure. We start with Webb being the victim of a robbery, launch into Webb’s back story, and then jump back to the present time, with the gun at Webb’s back again. Although such a setup isn’t that uncommon, the first and last parts of the novel are larger than usual. Also, the relationship between the characters in the first and last sections are stronger than those in the middle. It’s a minor detraction, but I spent a good bit of the past tense section of the story wondering when I’d get back to the intense car ride of the opening.

Hell on Church Street is still a strong book. It’s a fast-paced crime story that takes place in rural Arkansas. There’s violence and drugs and crazy people. It’s a quick read that I was able to finish in, pretty much, a single sitting. If you’re looking for a book to clean your palate from a ridiculously huge and daunting literary monster, or have suffered from a reading drought and want to jump back in quickly, Hell on Church Street is probably the fun and gruesome book that you need to pick up.

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