Down in the Gutter Like Me has, like a lot of Stephen A North’s work, a bit of a noir-ish flavor to it, with a down on his luck main character who isn’t squeaky clean by any stretch. Unlike a lot of his other works, this isn’t a character that gives the reader much of a reason to gain a sense of empathy for him. If you feel empathy for Guy Masters, I might feel a bit sorry for you, but more likely, I’ll just make every effort to steer clear of you (and make sure anyone I care for does as well).
Guy isn’t just down on his luck, he lives in the gutter, as the title of this short story infers. We are invited to join him down there as he stands in the dark one night, trying to peep through the window of his ex-girlfriend to get a look at her as she undresses while he wishes he had a handful of the painkillers he’s addicted to pop like candy…and it only gets seedier from there.
North has a knack for creating characters that are down on their luck. Bubbling with barely controlled rage, just beneath the surface. With most of what I have read, these characters are no choir boys, no boy scouts, but they have a moral streak that give the reader a reason to root for them and hope they find their redemption. Not so here, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This reads like the transcript of some news docudrama: a night of insanity perpetrated by a soul who isn’t just lost, but comfortable being lost-it doesn’t take much for them to do what the rest of us would call questionable or deplorable-little in the way of justification crosses Guy’s mind. He’s used to life sucking and he’ll make his own luck, no matter what kind of ugly he has to perpetrate for that luck to happen.
I guess you could feel something for Guy more than disgust. Perhaps it is that way for me because it’s pretty damn hard to imagine falling that far and that hard in life and being grateful those circumstances haven’t befallen me. We don’t want to be as hard, as cruel, or as vicious as life has been to him, or he has been to the world around him, so sympathy creeps in and we get tantalized by how wrong everything is that he does-never does he step onto the right pathway in this story and you get the sense he never has at any earlier point in his life. It allows us to take a quick glimpse into that type of vile world and step back, wash off the filth, and perhaps not feel so bad that some of the buzz Guy feels when he does yet another terrible thing didn’t instantly disgust us. After all, we’re not down in the gutter with him, living there. We’re just visiting for a little while…
Down in the Gutter Like Me can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Down-Gutter-Like-Stephen-North-ebook/dp/B082Z6STW7/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=down+in+the+gutter+like+me&qid=1577667634&sr=8-1
The Drifter takes place less than a century in the future, and is a story about a hired gun who begins the tale taking us through his latest job, while memories of a past that was more sane and more appealing (both to him and to the reader) floats through his head. Mace is the man’s name, and he is obligated to a crime boss by the name of Cap Leto, who has put him on what amounts to a suicide mission. Not that the anti-hero main character seems to care much, because his soul feels as if it has rotted away inside of him. Bitter and dispassionate, he goes forward with his job with little remorse, though with many regrets that began long before this story takes place, and are only compounded by what he is forced to do.
As our killer manages to make it through his mission still breathing, though bloodied and bruised, he decides that the opportunity to start over with a program offered by one of the mega-corporations that have off world colonies is his best bet. They offer a memory wipe and a chance to scrub the dirt off your hands and your soul. Unfortunately, Mace doesn’t appear to get the full treatment, and on top of that, the colony he ends up somewhere uptime is in a state of disarray. Bombs have been dropped, mutants are running wild, and gangs of marauders are running the place. On top of that, it seems that plenty of people know who Mace is, and are very interested in taking advantage of his unique talents as a hardened killer. But Mace has other ideas in mind, especially when he meets up with a woman on the run who he decides is worth protecting and fighting for, no matter how difficult it may be to keep her safe and alive.
The Drifter is a faced paced, present tense tale about a man who is part futuristic cowboy and part knight errant. Mace lives by his own code, even in a universe that seems determined that he get sucked back into the dark world he used to inhabit time and time again. The story is hard to pin down, since it has a noir-ish flavor to it, with a touch of Blade Runner thrown in. In addition to that, it has an apocalyptic edge as well. Mace travels a world that has been turned upside down by massive destruction and it has an almost wild west feel to it. It almost seems that there is always something more, something hidden from his vision, just around the corner, and it is hard to guess at who he can and should trust at any given moment. The character is fun, ballsy, and brash, and it was easy for me to grow attached to him as he tries to come to grips with memories that have faded alongside those that haven’t, which include most of the ones related to his dark past.
A fun, rock ‘em, sock ‘em tale, North has created a character that I hope to see again…and again. Mace is a hard case on a mission, and God help anyone who stands in his way.
The Drifter can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Drifter-Stephen-North/dp/1466312807/ref=sr_1_59?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1317608443&sr=1-59