I don’t like the word trope, not only does it sound ugly, it is most often used with negative connotations which seems to be a recent literary direction. Words do change. But when critics and readers whittle a novel down to a trope they are consciously demeaning a work even though there are a limited number of stories to tell. What matters is the writing. The writer, if talented and careful, guides the reader through a story that their readers have witnessed hundreds of times before, but this time, this time the words he or she needs breathe life into it.
For all it’s goodness, Outside the Law (Brash Books) could obviously be boiled down to some basic building blocks, but it is Phillip Thompson’s writing that makes this novel work. From the Outside the Law‘s opening paragraph, I knew Thompson could write.
He climbed out of the car and into the rain falling like silver three-penny nails on a moonless night. Fluorescent lighting bathed the gas pumps in the convenience store parking lot and cast weird splotches of light on the cracked, rain-slick concrete. He pulled on a brown sheriff’s department ball cap and squinted at the deputy cars that sat on either side of the pumps, their lights still revolving, slinging blades of vertigo-inducing blue light across the front of the store, which glowed from its windows decorated with neon beer lights.
After reading the first chapter where the sheriff deals a robbery gone wrong, an abusive deputy, and an overzealous journalist, I was vested into finding out what was going on in Sherriff Colt Harper’s Mississippi county.
A word of warning about Outside the Law, this is the second in the Colt Harper series. The first being, Deep Blood, and there are spoilers throughout the second book. But these spoilers are necessary to drive the plot along at a fast pace. Hell, even Thompson’s A Simple Murder is part of Outside the Law‘s universe.
Thompson tells the story of Outside the Law by breaking the chapters into the voices of different characters, so while Harper investigates the robberies of drug dealers we meet Hack, a thug sent to Lowndes County to tighten up the Memphis mob’s drug selling operation. Hack has a fondness for dressing up, executions, and self-importance, but as a reader, who doesn’t like a disturbed and flashy killer? As Harper and Hack begin circling each other, murder and mayhem ensue. If you like your Southern justice with a side of revenge and lots of good writing, then Outside the Law is just the book for you. To paraphrase James Carville, “it’s the writing, stupid” that makes Thompson’s novel more than any trope you can sling at it.
In case you were wondering, I’m not a fan of the cover either . . . but I get it.