Most people would be content just to sit back and take the plaudits after reaching such a literary high, but Joe Clifford isn't most people. His introduction to Zelmer Pulp's Hey That Robot Ate My Baby! may be viewed by many as his finest work to date, but hold the phone, he has another novel out.
Wake The Undertaker is actually Joe Clifford’s first novel. It beat the much-admired Junkie Love to the punch by a couple of weeks. When that autobiographical tour de force showed up fashionably late with huffing candy around its nose and a sly grin on its face, it immediately set about stealing the thunder from its elder sibling and has been hogging the limelight ever since. While there is little doubt that Junkie Love is a damn fine book, Wake The Undertaker is no ugly sister and it’s high time we showed it some love.
Nineteen year old Collie Spector is a nightclub singer on the up. He’s got the looks and the voice, but he’s also got the boss’s girl, Zoey, and when that boss is Gabriel Christos, the son of Bay City’s crime overlord Cephalus “the Old Man” Christos, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the fall Collie is headed for is going to be a big one.Gabriel orders a beat down, which includes ending Collie’s career by cutting his vocal chords, and with the help of Bay City’s crooked cops, Gabriel frames the singer for a crime he didn’t commit. Collie does time in the City’s Island prison of Rockville, working on his upper body and trying to come to terms with the fact he will never sing again. When he comes out, he is twice the man he was, but Collie isn’t the only one who has changed during those seven years.
Gabriel is now estranged from his old man and trouble is brewing between them. Collie soon finds himself sucked into their murky underworld of drugs and politics and ends up working for the very man who orchestrated his downfall.
Bay City is a dark and rain-swept place where the hoods date strippers and dirty cops are on the take from nightclub-owning crime bosses. Here, the washed up newspaper men tell it like it is, everyone drinks their bourbon straight and nothing is quite as it seems.
Joe Clifford has delivered an exceptional pulp novel that reminded me of Frank Miller's finest, but without the pictures. If you were to cut Wake the Undertaker with a knife it would bleed with noir. It would also jump back up and shank you with a rusty screwdriver. I really hope that it isn’t destined to become Joe Clifford’s “other novel." Wake The Undertaker deserves much better than second billing and is a true star in its own right. Part of me hates Mr. Clifford for being this good, but most of me can’t wait to read his next one.
My original review of Wake The Undertaker can be found at the online supermax for offensive fiction: Out Of The Gutter