Extract from ‘Epiphany Jones’ by Michael Grothaus

Epiphany Jones A/W.indd   Epiphany Jones Blog tour

Today is my stop on the ‘Epiphany Jones’ Blog Tour. This extraordinary debut is already garnering so many rave reviews, including mine which you may read here. To wet the appetite of those who have not yet bought the book I am providing an extract. I am also delighted to be able to offer a signed copy to one person who follows me on twitter and RTs the relevent tweet before the end of this weekend. 

Gypsies

In movies the term point-blank is thrown around incorrectly all the time. Point-blank actually refers to a shot fired from within one to two metres of the victim. When you shoot someone within inches of the face, as I just did, it’s called a contact shot. A contact shot will produce what’s called tattooing – a distinctively patterned wound from the powder burns that spray the face.

The sound of a gunshot has nothing to do with the mechanics of the bullet. The bang comes from gases that are released during the shot. In a contact shot the body will act as a suppressor for the muzzle blast, trapping the propellant gases under the skin, causing it to bubble up, thus muffling the sound of the shot so that even people walking on a busy boulevard forty feet away can’t hear it.

Now, what’s meant to happen when you shoot someone in the face at any range is the bullet leaves the barrel of the gun. It enters the victim, ideally between the eyes, travelling through the skull and that lump of grey matter we call a brain. Then the bullet, it exits the back of the head, taking a large chunk of skull and skin and mush with it.

Think JFK.

Think MLK.

Think Honest Abe.

This person you just shot, they’re supposed to collapse lifelessly to the ground. All thoughts, all memories, all pain and all joy, gone from them forever.

That’s what’s meant to happen. But guns, they act differently when you fire them at Epiphany Jones.

She’s still standing. Her eyes squeezed tight. Her breath held. Her whole body rigid like a bronze statue as she stands braced for impact against the half-inch shard of metal that’s supposed to end her shitty life.

One second passes. Two. And she opens her eyes a little. Three. She exhales. Four. She says, ‘God,’ and crosses herself. I flip the chamber open. Five. There are only five bullets in the revolver. The one that should have gone into Epiphany’s skull is lying somewhere on the floor of the Carlton’s bar.

‘Not God,’ I say, snapping the chamber shut, ‘luck.’

And maybe she’s convinced I’m right for once, because she doesn’t give me a chance to take another shot. With the broken heel of her silver shoe she kicks hard against my shin and grabs my wrist. And she slams my hand against the alley wall until I drop the gun. She’s relentless with her kicks and I stumble from the alley, tripping over a curb, landing in the middle of the street.

She kicks off her snapped heels and races barefooted down the street then turns onto the main boulevard. I grab the gun and sprint after her. I weave between the nightlife lovers and the celebrity seekers that fill the Croisette. A mass of people huddled around a DVD stall selling two-for-ones slows my pursuit. I push though them and run into the street. A black Benz blares its horn as it swerves to get around me. Epiphany is just twenty feet ahead of me on the sidewalk, and I’m gaining on her. Suddenly the mirror of another car hits me as it tries to swerve around me on the street. I leap back onto the sidewalk into the thickened crowd again. Then I realise it’s not just the crowd, but one of the roving bands of gypsies that have slowed my pursuit.

The gypsy and her children, they circle around me. The gypsy mother lifts her baby to my face and mumbles something about food. The longer the gypsy blocks me the smaller and smaller Epiphany gets down the boulevard. So I wrench the baby from the gypsy’s arms.

And I dropkick it.

And from behind me, someone yells, ‘My God!’

Someone yells, ‘That man just punted a baby!’

Someone yells, ‘Nice range!’

And I probably forgot to mention this before, but the gypsies that come from all over Europe to festivals like this – my dad told me all about them. They’ll roam around in packs, a mother and her gypsy children. The mother will always carry a baby wrapped in a blanket in her arms. As she carries this baby, she’s followed by her other little children, who weave through the people on the crowded sidewalk. The mother gypsy, she’ll hug her baby tight, whispering prayers in its ears. And the other children, they’ll wait for a cue from their mother. They’ll wait for a cue from their mother because, that baby she’s holding? It’s not real.

My father explained that what these gypsies will do is find a crowded area and ask people in broken English if they can spare some change to help feed the children. When no one offers any money, the gypsy will scream and scream until she’s attracted a lot of attention. Then she’ll toss her baby into the air. And the onlookers, they’ll all stand dumbfounded as this small baby sails through the sky.

While this is going on, while everyone’s attention is on the baby, the gypsy’s children will deftly pick the pockets of the onlookers. They do this in less than five seconds. And as the baby lands on the ground or is caught by a Good Samaritan, the onlookers will breathe a collective sigh of relief when someone shouts, ‘It’s just a doll!’ Everyone will slowly depart, crisis averted. ‘The woman is mad,’ they’ll say. They won’t realise until much later that their pockets are lighter.

And across the street a man has his hands stretched towards the sky. ‘Mine!’ he calls, like he’s Shoeless Joe Jackson waiting in the outfield. And soon three men are on me. Two wear tuxes. The third looks like paparazzi. They’re forcing me to the ground, and as a hand presses my head against the sidewalk, I gaze down the boulevard, my view all sideways. Epiphany has disappeared.

‘Someone call the police!’ a man is shouting.

‘Oh, take his picture, darling. The help will never believe this!’ a woman says.

Across the street, Shoeless Joe catches the baby to loud applause. He beams like he’s single-handedly won the World Series. But, ‘Wait! Wait!’ he says. ‘It’s not real!’ And he gives the baby a squeeze and it squeals like a dog’s toy.

The men holding me down, they apologise. They help me up now. The anger on the boulevard turns towards the gypsy.

‘You should be ashamed!’ someone says.

‘Get a job,’ another shouts.

But the gypsy, she just gathers her real children and walks away. Their pockets stuffed full of wallets.

 

Epiphany Jones is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

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Book Review: Epiphany Jones

Epiphany Jones A/W.indd

Epiphany Jones, by Michael Grothaus, is a book that took me so far beyond my comfort zone that I was tempted to set it aside. The challenging subject matter – child sex trafficking, pornography, and man’s ability to look the other way – left me feeling depressed and disturbed, not least because I am aware that these things happen in real life. And little is done to clamp down on the sex trade when the wealthy, the powerful, and the famous are involved. It is easier to look the other way and get on with ordinary life, easier for all except the victims.

Such a story could not work, and this one does work, if it were not tamped with humour. Unusually this humour is not fueled by women, whose feelings and behaviours are so routinely mined and mocked for men’s amusement. Rather it is the wider attitudes of society as a whole, and in particular the cult of celebrity, that are deftly unmasked. Asides are scattered throughout the horrific aspects of the tale, leading to laughter at the most improbable of situations.

The reader is taken into the dark heart of what some men will do if they think they can get away with it, how the powerful will use the vulnerable as a commodity from which personal pleasure and profit may be derived without concern for the pain this will inflict. Alongside are the conceits and foolishnesses that colour everyday life. The story is as cleverly written as it is challenging. I couldn’t set it aside because I needed to know what happened next.

The protagonist, Jerry Dresden, is a man with problems. He is addicted to porn and is plagued by people he hears and sees who do not exist. When he manages to sleep he suffers vivid, recurring nightmares. Through a friend of his parents he has been given a job at a museum which he hates.

Early on we learn that Jerry’s little sister died before she reached her teens, and that he blames himself for her death. A few years later he was a passenger in his father’s car when it hit a tree, killing the man. Jerry’s mother moved them across the country, away from Hollywood where her husband had worked in PR for a successful film producer. Jerry coped with these traumas by immersing himself in tacky television and the darker side of the internet.

The action kicks off when a young woman Jerry remembers from a dream, Epiphany Jones, ambushes his life. She frames him for theft and murder in order to blackmail him into accompanying her to Mexico. There he discovers a world controlled by violent pimps and people traffickers. Epiphany will not explain to him what she is trying to achieve, only that she is being instructed by God.

As Jerry and Epiphany travel from place to place the violence they encounter rises. The slow reveal of their backstories is as shocking as their ongoing problem with a powerful and sadistic thug named Nico. He has an empire to protect and the money to buy immunity from the law. He also has a history with Epiphany.

The denouement draws each thread together for a dramatic finale which, whilst upping the death count significantly, continues to poke fun at the foibles of a public intent on idolising their celluloid heroes and the behaviours this creates in the stars. The glitterati are as much a commodity to the Hollywood money makers as everything else these career making men encounter. The edifice they construct, built on the shallowest of foundations yet coveted by so many, brings out the basest of behaviours in their successes who consider themselves entitled to whatever they desire.

A sobering read that left me reeling, yet also a brilliant depiction of a skewed world where style matters more than substance and people are reduced to product. The writing is raw and unflinching, the story deftly put together with a depth that offers much for the reader to ponder. It has been said that good fiction’s job is to disturb the comfortable – this book is an extraordinary read that unstintingly succeeds.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda Books.