Edward Winston will not rest until his wife’s killer is caught. A resident of Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis, Edward is impatient with the police’s murder investigation, and just like any noir protagonist, starts to take matters into his own hands. Pursuing various leads, he soon finds himself tangled in a conspiracy of police corruption, organized crime and murder.
Mark Gilleo’s OUT OF TUPELO is about as convoluted as it could be. Its protagonist is morally complicated, operating with a logic seemingly all his own. Indeed, Edward emerges as just scarcely better than his supposed enemies and persecutors by the end, and his path towards revenge is fraught with both mortal and moral peril. Indeed, as the narrative progresses, the most sympathetic characters become two side-characters, a yakuza hitman and his sex worker girlfriend. What really stands out is TUPELO’s ending, a series of double-crosses and narrow escapes, along with a revelation that calls much of the narrative into question.
OUT OF TUPELO, it should be said, does not have much in the way of shoot-outs or chase scenes. The narrative relies not so much on conventional thriller set pieces, but rather on a subtler, more psychological type of suspense. But make no mistake: TUPELO is still a thick stew of tension, with every character’s life seemingly always in the balance.
One of the more annoying aspects of OUT OF TUPELO is its constant use of tourist brochure-type language. When eating at a cafe, characters cannot help but remark that this place is “famous for their seafood,” and later in the book, a critical plot point revolves around Tupelo’s annual festival and its Elvis impersonator contest. While the bucolic depictions of the rural South are definitely meant to ironically contrast with the novel’s noir brutality (think Fargo, except substitute Minnesota for Mississippi), these parts of the book can read like Wikipedia at times, and can distract from the narrative.
OUT OF TUPELO is successful at being what it is: a hardboiled thriller full of twists and turns where absolutely none of the characters are free of sin. The plot is a bit convoluted, and some of the characters’ actions are sometimes borderline baffling, but it never stops being a fun, exciting book.
~Chaz Baker for IndieReader