Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Circus is Bloomsbury’s literary imprint for original works, many of them American in origin. The first titles appeared in 2011, but Hard Twisted is the first I have seen on a bookshop shelf. C. Joseph Greaves, the author, has also begun a career writing thrillers under the name of Chuck Greaves.
Hard Twisted tells of a failed homesteader, Dillard Garrett and his thirteen year old daughter, Lucile known as Lottie to her friends, falling in with a newly released felon, Clint Palmer, in the dust bowl states of 1934. Incapacitated by alcoholism, Garrettt disappears and Palmer takes Lucile along with him, renaming her Johnny Rae, implying that Garrett has gone on the run from a major crime. Palmer feeds an ignorant and innocent Johnny Rae as they travel in search of work and money, Palmer preferring the latter to the former, though neither are in easy supply, finally ending in sheep country, where he takes a job herding. The drought over the continent has affected the sheep country, too, and, the sheep have to be driven to and from the watered pasture, in contention with other ranchers and farmers. It ends in murder for which Palmer, who has fathered a child on Johnny Rae, is finally tried with the girl as a prosecution witness.
Though Greaves wrote his novel seventy-five years later, it reads in some ways like a contemporary work, specifically echoing some of the style of William Faulkner, particularly as the dialogue is buried in the rest of the text, not identified in quotation marks, in prime modernist style. Similarly, Lottie’s limited understanding leading to misdirection is Faulknerian. Readers realise that Palmer has murdered her father, while Lottie does not, and another scene in a restaurant where Palmer bilks paying, sending Lottie out ahead of him, has the same effect.
Based on a true story, in its events at least, Hard Twisted echoes a couple of novels now forty years old: Charles Portis’s True Grit (1968), and Joe David Brown’s Addie Pray (1971, which was filmed as Paper Moon with Ryan and Tatum O’Neal in 1973); both about an older man travelling with a teenage girl, the first in search of justice, the second about confidence tricksters. If nothing else, Addie Pray and Hard Twisted bring home the damage done to a struggling people by those who break the law: their victims have nothing or next to nothing, a diner in 1934 cannot afford to lose two meals. True Grit reads peculiarly, Mattie’s narration is strange (having seen neither film adaptation I have no idea if this was brought out on the screen), only finally revealed in the last pages: that the elder Mattie has been bitter for all her adult life because of the crippling injury she suffers as her adventure ends, and it is that bitter Mattie who has been telling her story. The real Lottie Garrett survived her ordeal with Clint Palmer, raised a family in Texas, finally dying in 1991. Perhaps she would not have told her tale as Joseph Greaves has told it, but this account of bleak struggle and retribution is gripping. Look out for it.