Will Christopher Baer is one of the edgy genre-bending new writers, whose rich imagination constructs a story that plumbs the depths of the human psyche, revealing a vast netherworld of casual violence and degradation. This is a walk on the wild side that makes you happy to read about it, happier not to be involved in the random brutality and casual disregard for life that defines the underbelly of any city, the center of pornography, snuff films, assorted chemical cocktails and indignities.
Phineas Poe and his girlfriend, Jude, aren't exactly your average couple. Special Forces-trained, Jude is a dangerous package who hires herself out for various clandestine services, like limb amputation for fetish freaks. As her assistant, Poe does the cleanup. On one particularly bad day, Jude and Phineas are ambushed - down for the count, but lucky to be alive. Jude disappears and Poe's mission is to locate her, no matter how long it takes. To this end he travels from city to city, searching for clues from massage parlors to strip joints.
After five long years, Poe hits pay dirt. He spots Jude in an alley, blood dripping from her knife; from then on the situation gets complicated, and Poe goes along for the ride, grudgingly accepting Jude's business partnership with a psychotic lawyer cum snuff-film-producer, John Ransom Miller. Committed to making Miller's film, Poe understands that someone must die.
Baer's bizarre odyssey through Hell's Half Acre is a rough ride, shadowed by incipient violence and enough cocaine to finance a small war. But this book works because it is not exploitative, just brutally honest. Baer writes of a world most of us prefer to ignore, unflinching in the face of murder and mayhem. His protagonist, the intrepid Phineas Poe, masters the art of skirting the edge without tumbling into the abyss or accidentally slitting his own throat. Pulp Fiction redux.