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Review: The Least of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones

By Gabino Iglesias

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Open your mouth just a tad. Now suck your cheeks in and hold them between your teeth. Got them? Okay, now use your hand to hit your own chin as hard as possible.

If you were dumb enough to do that, please go take care of your injuries now. If you didn't follow those crazy instructions, know this: I borrowed them from Stephen Graham Jones' The Least of My Scars, a novel that can be called many things, and the literary equivalent of that bit of self-inflicted punishment is one of them.

The Least of My Scars follows William Colton Hughes, a professional killer who's as unhinged as they come. Billy works for a man named Singer who provides him with everything he needs to get the job done. The gig is easy: victims are delivered to his door and all Billy has to do is end their lives and dispose of them, and he has a sweet setup that allows him to do that quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, his reclusive lifestyle start affecting Billy. With no one to talk to and the apartments that surround him being empty on purpose, the silence is filled by Billy's growing paranoia. To make things worse, there's a woman out there who's hell-bent on revenge and Singer seems to be angry about something. When people come to knock on his door, Billy knows they should be afraid, but now he's the one who hesitates before opening the door.

Jones is a master storyteller regardless of genre, and his skills are in full display here. The prose is feverish and seems to push the narrative forward at 100 miles per hour. Billy, whose voice makes him a likeable character despite being a psychotic murderer with a taste for torture, appears to be a somewhat reliable narrator, but his mental state clouds everything in mystery and the few surreal touches Jones adds sporadically keep the reader guessing until the end. Also, the narrative walks a fine line between a superb horror story and one of the darkest noirs published in 2013.

One of the best things a novel can do is stick to your ribs and come back to you whenever a thing or a word triggers a powerful memory. The Least of My Scars does that with a few things. That I'll never look at garbage disposal units the same way again is almost understandable, but that thin mints now make me think of death and torture is a testament to Jones' creative chops.

Last but not least, one of the reasons everyone should read this book is the fact that it accomplishes a lot within a very limited microcosm. Billy never leaves the apartment/hive he has created, but his mind is all over the place, and the reader goes with him.

The Least of My Scars is dark and cerebral. Jones is one of the top voices in literature and he keeps inventing entertaining delivery systems for his narratives. This book, the first I've read from the first batch of Broken River Books' inaugural batch, is one that fans of crime fiction will compare to most classic serial killer narratives like Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, and Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs. However, this is a different, much more brutal animal. You'll have to read it to understand why.