It is a sweltering summer morning in New Jersey and an appalling sight awaits Ben O’Shaughnessy…
When he arrives in ‘The Embroidery Capital of the World’ to drop the roughs off for some new products, he soon finds the body of a young sketcher, her slender form tilted sideways, her hands balled up into fists.
And that’s not all - her mouth is crudely stitched shut with red embroidery thread.
Ben, who also writes a gossip column as ‘Mr Knowbody’ for the Jersey Journal, is shocked and pained.
But nobody appears to want to find out who murdered Nikki and why – no one except him that is.
Though the embroidery business paid the rent, Ben’s secret life as Mr Knowbody kept him sane.
Could Mr Knowbody unknot the thread?
He certainly has more than a passing acquaintance with the seedy underbelly of glamour capitals like New York and his is a world where everyone is fighting to keep their head above water.
It is a world of ultimate human exploitation, where the trappings of civilised life – local politicians, businessmen, law enforcement, the Church – are exposed as merely skin deep when Mr Knowbody starts poking his unwanted nose in.
And when Nikki’s mother Hazel doesn’t seem to react when she learns of her daughter’s death, Mr Knowbody can’t help wondering…what secret could she be hiding?
Red Thread is a riveting read, peppered with the humour and satisfyingly taut structure of Ernest Hemingway.
Praise for Mark Rogers
‘Chilling and intriguing in equal measures’ – Thomas Waugh
A short and compelling mystery with ticks in all the boxes.
Plot – A murdered sketcher - stabbed and with her lips sown up. An associate in the garment trade with a guilty conscience – Ben O’Shaughnessy, our main man and the secret author of a gossip column – Mr Knowbody, the content of which he fears may have directly caused the death of Nikki, our sketcher. O’Shaughnessy, concerned that the police don’t really give a shit, does some digging himself.
Setting – Union City, New Jersey – the Embroidery Capital of the United States – A melting pot of Irish, German and Italians with a subsequent sprinkling of Spanish and Puerto Ricans in the 60s and Marielitos in the 70s.
Characters – Ben, his family – a second wife, Rosa a Cuban hottie and his boys, a daughter from his first marriage, his in-laws, some rough diamonds from the cut-throat garment trade, a strangely behaving non-grieving mother, a performing priest, a strange Goth friend with a weird tattoo and a victim with some striking talents but some secrets and serious issues to boot.
The highlight for me though was the cranky neighbour Vic, the eccentric irritant – there’s probably one in every street. Superfluous to the plot, but his interactions with Ben added another element of realism and a bit of light relief to the narrative.
I was figuring the car was just about cooled off when I saw them – two big black bags of garbage squatting in front of our house. It had started a few months ago, when our neighbor, Vic, bought a used Lexus with 150,000 miles on it. The man sweated bullets worrying that the garbage men would put a mark on his pride and joy. A normal person would have solved the problem by parking the Lexus in the driveway. Not Vic – if he did that he would lose control of the parking space in front of his house. Instead Vic lived in a constant state combining equal measures of Machiavelli and Ardrey’s The Territorial Imperative.
I grabbed the bags and hauled them over to the curb in front of Vic’s house. Even having to carry his garbage a few steps made me mad as hell. I saw his curtains flutter in his front window and for a second I thought I saw him crouching there. Vic was insane. He was good for at least two Mr Knowbody items a year.
Pace – not break neck, but far from sedentary. Rogers gives enough depth to our city and the embroidery trade and Ben and his family while still advancing the plot.
Murder, suspicion, confrontation, a beat-down, threats to family, pressure from the police, secrets, nightclubbing with a seductive but deranged mother,and an abuse of trust, position and office with devastating consequences.
Ben O’Shaughnessy is an interesting lead. He knows his city and the secrets of its inhabitants – hence the gossip column. He’s faithful, decent and conscientious, if not a little forgetful when it comes to his daughter from his first marriage. I enjoyed his company and would look forward to a second outing with him in a future book, though whether that figures in the author’s future plans I don’t know. Ben may be a one-shot deal.
I really enjoyed this one – a top read, all wrapped up in under 180 pages.
4.5 from 5
Mark Rogers is a writer and artist whose literary heroes include Charles Bukowski, Willie Vlautin and Charles Portis. He lives most of the year in Baja California, Mexico with his Sinaloa-born wife, Sophy. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice and other publications and his travel journalism has taken him to 54 countries.
He has a few other fiction offerings – Basement, Rex and the recent Koreatown Blues published by Brash Books.
Read in March 2017
Published – 2016
Page count – 172
Source – review copy from author
Format – PDF – read on laptop.