Jim Nisbet’s Lethal Injection is one of those much admired yet still underrated classics of the neo-noir movement. Published in 1987 under Black Lizard when author Barry Gifford ran the press, the book fits in that era of writers who were influenced by William Burroughs as much as by Jim Thompson.
The book follows Franklyn Royce, a doctor with a failed marriage and practice. For extra cash, he oversees prison executions. After a strange encounter with Robert Mencken, an inmate he delivers a lethal injection to, he believes he may have killed an innocent man. It drives him to track down the real killer.
Dr. Royce heads to Dallas, finding out his road to atonement leads straight to Hell. He soon hooks up with Menken’s partner in crime, Eddie, and his girl, Colleen, a junkie and part time hooker. It’s not long before he falls into a crime spree with Eddie and into Colleen’s bed. They both lead him to hard truths about the murder and redemption.
The pitch black mood in this book is practically a character. Nisbet uses his skill as a poet to deliver a tight tale that has the flow of a dark stream of conscious, moving at a rapid pace. He covers class, race, and addiction through characters instead of thematics. Nisbet relies on us to read between the lines, but those dark spaces are so clear.
Lethal Injection is one of those books that brands itself in your brain. It taps into the visceral side of noir, looking at the genre from a unique perspective. You enter a sinner’s fever dream that culminates in sex, drugs, and violence where the only peace comes from not waking up.
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