Montebello Books, 2009
2 out of 5 stars
Dirty Hands, the debut by author T.R. Braxton, starts with a dead girl, killed by accident during a drunken night of sex and drugs by lowlife hood Damon Brock. Moments later both the girl’s friends are killed in an effort to cover up the first murder. Brock’s buddies Terrell and Shawntae take part dismembering the bodies and dumping them in a nearby river and we begin a dirty crime thriller with a 3-way hate triangle of guilt, fear and mistrust.
Braxton is a master of street-slang and inner-city vernacular. His three main characters speak with a gritty yet fluid street lingo that almost becomes its own dialect. We have three hoods, all bad guys, who have committed horrific crimes and now live with their cover up, wondering if they’ll all be able to keep the secret, knowing that murder and the possibility of life in prison (or worse) means that there are no true friends. It’s every man for himself. You don’t like these guys – you’re not supposed to like these guys. You hope they get what’s coming to them; that justice is served.
But what could be a thrilling psychological crime story suffers from one major flaw: Braxton gives us no character to identify with. The murderers are soulless lowlifes you cannot root for. They really have no redeeming qualities that make you sympathetic to their plight. When they suffer, you are happy. They deserve to be burdened by guilt, but guilt is hardly a satisfying punishment. The police detectives are stand, run-of-the-mill cops and we don’t learn enough about them to form any kind of bond. There is no Clarice Starling trying to overcome incredible odds. Even the bad guys, struggling to hide evidence and keep their stories straight, seem to coast along easily outwitting their predators.
The character Monet, one of the murderers’ innocent girlfriend, becomes sympathetic after her boyfriend cheats on her and admits it, but when Terrell then confesses the details of the triple-murder to her, she decides – amazingly! – to become an accessory to the homicides and help him cover it up. What kind of a girl would help her ex-boyfriend cover up three murders just minutes after he confessed to cheating on her, and to killing the three women? Monet is incredibly forgiving, and this is hard to believe, given the brutality of the crime and the status of her relationship with Terrell.
There are also some major formatting, spelling and grammatical errors that distract greatly from Braxton’s sound writing. The top margin is too small and the bottom margin is way too big. Paragraphs are indented inconsistently, and sometimes not at all. Different fonts are used seemingly by accident and the book feels like it has never been edited. This is a huge flaw that can easily be corrected and all authors should take time to make sure these significant errors are corrected.
In the end there is no redemption, no justice and the story is left unresolved with no sense of closure. I was hoping for a more dramatic ending but the story just sort of slows down and eventually dies. A good try for Braxton but his first effort suffers from lack of character development and story arc. The book felt like the last chapter was missing. It didn’t end the way it should have.
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, April 2010