Andrew Battershill’s surrealist, genre-bending debut crime novel, 2015’s Pillow, was longlisted for the Sunburst Award and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Three years later, Battershill returns with another offbeat thriller set in Victoria and on B.C.’s Quadra Island. Marry, Bang, Kill features a mugger with a conscience, a hired killer with a master’s degree in art history, crooked cops, retired cops, and scallop-thieving drug dealers.
The first chapter introduces us to Tommy Marlo, the aforementioned mugger. Tommy is preparing to hold up a teenage girl for her laptop – a crime for which he removes his glasses so as not to overly humanize his victim. “For Tommy, it was only possible to rob someone when they appeared to him a blurry, Caucasian shape.” The mugging proves disastrous when he discovers he’s just robbed the daughter of a violent motorcycle-gang member. To make matters worse, the laptop contains the location of a large sum of cash from an armoured car heist.
What follows is a sprawling, gonzo hide-and-seek narrative that will appeal to fans of Breaking Bad or some of the wackier Coen Brothers fare. An assassin named Greta is hired to “find, restrain, and maybe lightly torture” Tommy, a task she likens to “cleaning up day-old vomit.” Greta’s effectiveness as a contract killer stems from the fact that “[n]obody ever [thinks] she’d kill anybody, it never even crosse[s] their mind.” Her character stands out as a vibrant – if deadly – woman in a narrative full of loathsome men.
There are essentially no good guys in this story; the characters exist on a moral spectrum ranging from dark grey to darker grey. Despite this, Battershill presents them in the manner of Looney Tunes characters unceremoniously dumped into a 1940s film noir. Eccentricities are enhanced to the point of caricature. Take the description of Quadra Island lowlife Glass Jar Jeffries, whose pants hang off his waist “as if he was an ankle and they were a tube sock with a broken elastic.” He’s also the kind of despicable white man with a “distant, but deeply held, Irish heritage” whose curses are liberally sprinkled with the n-word.
The plot is twisting and unpredictable, but it’s also disorienting and, at times, overwhelming. Marry, Bang, Kill might resonate with readers who enjoyed Battershill’s previous work, but it lacks the freshness and innovation of that book. This new novel feels like a straightforward throwback to a seedier age of pulp fiction, when villains prospered and violence pervaded the pages.