The Path To Revenge Is Never A Straight Line: Aaron Philip Clark’s The Furious Way

Lucy is a woman driven to extremes. Haunted by the murder of her mother and seeking answers as well as vengeance upon the man responsible for her death, she ends up in pursuit of an old assassin. She wants to hire him to do his work, but the assassin has other things in mind.

Garza retired from performing contract kills and other crime to live in a quiet, run-down neighborhood of San Pedro, California. His method of execution is not particularly a nice one. He trains attack dogs, sics them on the enemy, and then calls them home once they’re done. He’s too old for the baggage Lucy brings to his doorstep, but something about the woman is interesting enough for him to test her.

“Don’t speak, just listen,” he said, “you think you’re a killer? You think you’ve got that inside?” Garza pointed at Lucy’s chest as if he could see past the flesh and bone. She felt penetrated and exposed in a way that made her stomach clinch.

Garza continued: “Next to my house there’s an alley. Do you know what alley I’m speaking of?”

“Yes,” Lucy said.

Garza spoke slowly and without blinking. “At the end of this alley is a house. Boys live there, about three of them, and they’ve taken my dog and I want it back. I don’t care what you must do but if you return her to me, I will help you. Do we understand each other?”

The Furious Way, Location 242

She ends up confronting the house of young toughs, subsequently gets her ass handed to her, and ultimately has to rely on Garza’s intervention not to get herself killed. The dog eventually comes home, but not in the same shape it was when the kids stole it. Lucy considers herself a failure, but nevertheless Garza agrees to take her money for two weeks’ worth of training and work. They get to business selecting a couple of dogs and turning them into killers. A trial run goes splendidly, and then Lucy reveals the twist.

The target is Assistant District Attorney Victor Soto, a powerful man who will not be easy to get and will certainly be missed if they succeed. The situation is not impossible, mind, but not easy either. Lucy’s quest for answers and vengeance is already on course, and though the answers she discovers will not be particularly comforting, will, in fact, be little atom bombs obliterating many of the assumptions she’s held since she was a little girl. However, they are answers she must hear, must process, must utilize if she is to succeed in achieving that one thing that eludes her: real freedom from the ghosts of her own past.

Aaron Philip Clark dazzled me with the meditative and thrilling Under Color of Law, this year. It seemed only fitting to find room for another of his novels. The Furious Way is an engaging story of revenge and despair, a pulpy noir novel with teeth. It’s a book that latches on, speeding along toward the finale with its inevitable yet still surprising twists and switchbacks.

Clark’s narrative gives us the opportunity to tag along on Lucy’s journey from hatred toward freedom. In her own headspace, she considers this to be a kind of peace. However, as her journey commences and she becomes an apprentice to a killer, she discovers this might not be the case:

The word freedom was bouncing about in her brain like the white numbered balls churning in a lottery machine. She wrestled with the idea that she had been carrying out vengeance in the name of freedom, believing that killing Victor Soto would release the shackles that had kept her bound for so long, and light could finally pierce the dark clouds that had remained after her mother’s murder. But the sickening truth was that Lucy had never felt more like a prisoner. Justice for her mother was the thing she wanted most, but she had long forgotten the nuances and tangibles she once clung to—her mother’s scent, her walk and touch—what if vengeance wasn’t the road to rectitude, but the curse of more impenetrable darkness? The memory of her mother had grown distorted over time and when she thought of her, it was no longer a feeling of melancholy and of longing but of hate—deep and painful. Lucy hated that her mother left her alone and she hated that Victor had gotten away with killing her; but what Lucy hated most was the notion that her mother, so desperate to ascend from poverty, felt it necessary to carry on with a vile man like Victor Soto, and now, here Lucy was, becoming a murderer like him.

The Furious Way, Location 2427

It’s the classic case of what we want not quite meshing up with what we need.

If this dichotomy is familiar, that is because it is the fuel for many of the most popular variations on the maiden’s journey to come along in US history. You see, Lucy is perhaps one of the most unique examples of a Disney Princess ever. Sure, she is a pulp fiction variation and lives in a violent world, but the journey itself is one that mirrors the progression of a heroine from a Disney animated film. The absent mother, the cruel patriarch antagonist, a mentor who is also a tempter, a late developing romance with a Prince Charming (Victor’s son Martin, as it turns out), and being pushed into a situation where one must decide to follow the course of the head (revenge) or the course of the heart (compassion). There are no talking animals, this time around, but the dogs can think and plan out tactics with the best of them. And these animals do her bidding. It leaves one to wonder, if Cinderella had access to kamikaze bluebirds and squirrels, would she really have needed a glass slipper and Prince Charming to stick it to her wicked stepmother and stepsisters? In fact, I’d pay money to see The Furious Way as an animated film told in that classic Disney style. But I digress.

Of course, this is more than a Disney storyline, isn’t it? It’s the stuff of classic myth and heroic journeys. While we cannot quite map the events that Lucy experiences to the road laid out in Joseph Campbell’s seminal text The Hero With 1000 Faces, there are certainly echoes. Lucy is not necessarily what we think of as a traditionally heroic character. Her journey takes her through some seriously dark spiritual areas. However, she is nevertheless the hero of this particular piece, and the emotional crisis is less about taking revenge on a bad man than about losing herself. This is made evident in the ultimate decision she must make:

Lucy hung on Garza’s every word, watching the scenes unfold in her mind.

“You get the answers you need from him and when you’re satisfied, you kill him. We light the van on fire with him in the back. You pay me what you owe me, and we disappear—go our separate ways—or you come work for me.”

“Work for you?” Lucy asked.

“I’ve been giving it some thought. I think we make a good team.”

Lucy didn’t respond. She didn’t want to upset Garza but the thought of working with him—killing people—made her want to vomit.

“You don’t have to decide now but give it some consideration. There’s a lot I could teach you. You’ve got a real knack for this work.”

“I do?”

“Sure, you’re smart and with practice you could be one of the best.”

It was high praise coming from Garza. No one had ever said Lucy was good at anything before.

The Furious Way, Location 2416

It’s a fascinating question, and one that we already have an inkling as the answer for. However, we read on hoping that the character development we’ve seen is real.

Although the social issues are less pronounced in The Furious Way than in Under Color of Law, which seemed to be ripped from headlines, they still bubble away under the surface. This time around, we get the concept of gentrification. Garza’s neighborhood has become the target for a group of renovators, known as The Phoenix Group. As the name suggests, these (predominantly wealthy and white) folks are eager to take a downtrodden neighborhood, buy up the houses, repair them, tear down the worst parts, and then build up new luxury communities.

Garza handed Lucy the brochure. Lucy frowned as she read.

“Fuckers,” she said.

“What is it?”

“They want to improve your neighborhood.”

“That’s what she said—I think she means more cops.”

“It means getting you out, so money comes in.”

“They want my house?” Garza asked. He was growing agitated.

“You’re five miles from the beach. Of course, they want your house. They want San Pedro to look like Santa Monica.”

“I hate the Westside.”

“They think San Pedro is a shit-hole, but a shit-hole with potential,” Lucy said […]

The Furious Way, Location 818

This was one of the more surprising angles of the piece. Although this initially seems to be a separate storyline, Victor Soto’s involvement in the group comes to light pretty quick. He’s got his fingers in quite a few different pies, which is only fitting for an antagonist of this magnitude.

What I enjoyed was that while there is a relatively straight forward way to deal with the threat of a man, there’s a less straightforward way to deal with the threat of such an organization. It’s a beast of a different sort, and one that wears a pleasant mask as it performs its vile deeds.

The Furious Way is an engaging read, a page turner of the best sort. It tells a ripping yarn about a woman’s journey through hatred and out the other side. It’s not a pretty story, but it’s well told and overflowing with passion, speculation, and violence. It might be the most original method for murder I’ve seen in a while, though some readers with sensitivities to animal violence and death might want to give this one a pass. The book is not a face first indulgence into splattery sorts of bloodletting, but a couple of animals pass in its pages, innocent soldiers in a war they never chose.

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The Furious Way is available in eBook and paperback editions.

Next week, we shift up gears with an unusual spin on the detective story with Stephen Graham Jones’ Not For Nothing. That book is available in eBook and paperback editions.

WORKS CITED

Clark, Aaron Phillip. The Furious Way. Shotgun Honey: 2019.

“The Path To Revenge Is Never A Straight Line: Aaron Philip Clark’s The Furious Way” is copyright © 2021 by Daniel R. Robichaud. Cover image and quotes taken from the Shotgun Honey eBook, released 2019.

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