First published in November of 2009, Los Angeles based Ryan David Jahn’s debut novel ‘Acts Of Violence’ (titled ‘Good Neighbours’ in the US) saw itself released through Macmillan's 'New Writing' venture. The book’s simplistic cover artwork sporting a bloody hand motif brings about a startling resemblance to the UK author David Moody’s ultra-violent novel ‘Hater’ (2006). Indeed, with monstrous acts of violence as the main theme running through both, this new novel seems to have almost a direct link to Moody’s unrelenting offering.
It’s the mid-60’s, and over the course of one night, a small number of individuals will witness a horrific and ultimately tragic murder that takes place within the illuminated courtyard of the Hobart Apartment buildings. Katrina Marino is the young woman who that night is attacked. It’s 4am and she has just arrived back at the apartment buildings from working late at the bar where she serves drinks. As she approaches the door to her ground-floor apartment, a man appears from amongst the shadows and brutally stabs her. Marino crawls into the courtyard where the man continues to assault her, until one of the many witnesses looking out from their apartment windows, shouts down to the man to leave her alone. The attacker flees leaving Marino, who is now slowly bleeding to death, looking around at the many faces staring down at her. But not one of them reaches for the phone and dials for the emergency services.
Patrick Donaldson is a young Vietnam draftee who lives at the same apartments where he looks after his terminally sick mother. The anxious young man recently received a letter informing him that he has been ordered to report for an ‘Armed Forces Physical Examination’. However, once he is drafted to Vietnam, it will leave his mother alone without anyone to look after her. That night, after seeing the attack in the courtyard below (and shouting to the attacker to leave the girl alone), an important decision will be made between him and his mother.
Diane Myer’s has suspected that her husband, Larry, has been having an affair for a while now. And tonight, after he is two hours late home from playing bowling with his friends, she plans to confront him. And so when Larry finally arrives home, Diane proceeds to bombard her husband with all the evidence, until he is finally forced to admit his six-month-long affair with another woman. As their marriage slowly crumbles around them in their apartment room that very same night, the last thing Larry wants to do is run to the aid of whoever is down in the courtyard screaming. Besides, one of the many other over-lookers is bound to do something.
Thomas Marowe thinks he has reached his end. Why continue with life anymore? After all, his whole existence is just a sham. There is no wife or daughter in his life. They’re just a fabrication he tells his friends in order to keep up the pretence of normality. However, before he can finally end it all with his grandfather’s old service revolver, his friend - Christopher turns up at his door and decides it’s time to make Thomas aware of who he really is. Whilst their emotions are high in the small apartment, the two decide that someone else can deal with the screaming girl outside.
Peter Adams can barely believe the recent turn of events that have brought him to now enjoying sex with his work colleague’s wife. Next door his wife is also having sex with someone else. This is their first experiment with swinging and all seems to be going well. That is until they hear the screams of the girl outside. But someone else is bound to be dealing with the commotion. And Peter is about to find out the emotional pitfalls that go along with this open experimentation.
Nathan Vacanti is drunk and driving his way home from a party. En route he collides with a lorry that simply drives off without even stopping. Vacanti is left with life-threatening injuries. But no one seems to be around, or at least those that are, aren’t stopping to help. He is left to find help himself before he bleeds to death. But his past is about to catch up with him that very night.
Frank Riva leaves the apartments to investigate the possible accidental hit and run involving a small baby and his wife that only just happened. However, his small excursion is going to become even more troublesome than he would have ever anticipated after encountering a cowardly police officer with one hell of a superiority complex. That night the dishonest copper is going to find out that he can’t always get away with whatever he wants.
So many lives living out their own dramatic little events. Each one of which has the chance to save one defenceless and desperate girl’s life. But they’re all sure someone else will do something...
Ryan David Jahn based the premise of his story of Katrina Marino’s cold blooded murder on the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese that took place in Queens, New York back in 1964. The horrifying lack of action by the twelve witnesses to Genovese’s attack has led to numerous references and studies into the psychological aspects of this ‘bystander effect’. In Jahn’s starkly brutal novel, the reader is allowed a voyeuristic insight (however fictional this version is) into what goes on in the lives and minds of the witnesses to a horrific stabbing, that ultimately results in the murder of a young woman. A death that could well have been avoided.
Each one of the lives in the novel is interwoven into the frame of the story that takes place between the hours of 4am and 6am. Each story is equally dramatic for the characters involved, resulting in a combined lack of action for Katrina Marino, as she lies bleeding to death in the courtyard below.
With each chapter separating the stories, so that snippets of each are gradually detailed, until the whole horrible premise begins to reveal itself; the author has managed to produce a fast paced and carefully interwoven piece of gritty edge-of-the-seat fiction.
Jahn’s unnerving glimpse into the reality of our violent world screams with an underlying truth to each and every one of the stories. For some the idea of 'swinging' seems like a fantasy come true. But the emotional reality of the situation comes crashing down around the character of Peter Adams with a starkly realistic and convincing change in events. Elsewhere, the casual and socially accepted racism of the 60’s is horrifyingly real and predominant. And further still, euthanasia and the traumatic results of paedophilia are tackled head-on. Jahn does not cower away from any difficult subjects, but instead forces the reader to look at the reality of our world and perhaps even tackle its harshness head on.
The novel is certainly a shocking and powerful piece of reality-inspired-fiction that pulses with underlying messages and haunting reminders of our social awareness and responsibilities. Although a number of the scenes are graphically violent in places, the main power to the novel is in the desperation of each one of the characters' emotional states.
Only one story seems to have been missed out of the text. That one being the lorry driver who hit the drunk-driving school teacher’s car. This is a shame, for it would have truly completed the full story of the inter-weaving stories perfectly.
This nail-biting and harrowing piece of inspired fiction forms a monumental debut for the author.
The novel runs for a total of 280 pages.
© DLS Reviews