THE DEVIL WAITS
The Jim Thompson-esque first person psycho genre gets a smart and troubling update in this gripping account that owes much to Thompson’s pulpy fiction, as well as the darker, more idiosyncratic crime novels of Charles Willeford. The set-up is quintessentially pulpish: a down-on-his-luck man, having just been fired from a dead-end job, is lured into taking part in a crime that goes horribly wrong. Author Jackson Meeks’ treatment of this material, however, is anything but standard.
Among other things, Meeks is partial to lengthy descriptions of his narrator’s mundane day-to-day activities. The feel is not unlike that of an alien going through the motions of and attempting to adjust to human life--an interpretation that, it turns out, is not entirely inaccurate.
Fatally naïve is how the unnamed protagonist seems at first, if not mentally deficient: he doesn’t appear to have much control over his life and is all-too-readily coerced into holding up a fast food joint. Yet an early encounter with a prostitute, which concludes with the protagonist beating up the woman for no apparent reason, suggests this guy harbors unsavory depths. That suspicion is confirmed when during the robbery the protagonist senselessly kills all the employees of the fast food restaurant, again for no apparent reason.
Yes, this guy is an out-and-out sociopath, albeit a disarmingly kind-hearted one who always shows immense consideration to those around him. As for the murders, of which there are quite a few following those of the fast food employees, the protagonist acknowledges their unjustness but otherwise doesn’t give them much thought. He’s got more immediate concerns, notably the possibility of being caught and locked up for his crimes--although you can be sure that, once the inevitable incarceration occurs, he goes out of his way to be as accommodating as possible to the authorities.
At heart WHILE THE DEVIL WAITS is as much a dark character study as it is a crime novel. Its insights into the psyche of a remorseless killer rival those of the abovementioned Charles Willeford (who specialized in first person sociopaths), and make for a bleakly fascinating read.