Burn Cards by Christopher Irvin (280 Steps, April 14, 2015) – A little less than a year ago, I finished reading Christopher Irvin’s debut novella, Federales—released under One Eye Press—and said “damn” as soon as I finished the last sentence. Irvin had put together a sharp, fast-paced, and heartbreaking story that entertained and impressed in equal measure.
After reading his soon to be released follow-up novella, Burn Cards, I said “hot damn”.
Mirna Fowler lives a life clouded by her multi-time loser of a father Doug. Struggling to make ends meet for herself, she’s beset by familial obligation and her own demons. When Doug turns up dead, a shady suicide, Mirna inherits his debt and finds herself haunted by more than just the loss of a father she gave up on so long ago.
Loss—it’s a recurrent theme in Burn Cards and one that Irvin weaves into the narrative tightly. His voice commands a literary authority and presents Mirna’s world as one that’s crusted over by the desert sands so close to Reno. Mirna’s lost at life, her father, and maybe even her soul. She’s made terrible choices in her life and doesn’t live well with them. She drinks, she broods, and she fails. What’s surprising is Irvin manages to make the reader care, even if we know Mirna’s resolved herself to this life all too easily. There’s a spark there and it catches the attention enough to give us hope and wish for Mirna to work her way out of her problems—even if she doesn’t have a steady hand at it.
Irvin’s Reno is also a standout. A soul-sucking, neon hued void, Reno is the monster in plain sight. It swallows people whole and does nothing to spit them back out. Of all the ruthless and awful characters Mirna meets in her journey, none are as outright decrepit and exploitative as the city she calls home.
Like Federales, Burn Cards is a short read that sings at a hundred miles per hour. Not a single word’s been wasted and a person could easily be fooled into believing they read more story than the short page count of 136 pages. Irvin’s proven himself as being incredibly adept at doing more than most famous authors in a third or quarter of the space. I honestly can’t wait to see what he can do with a full-length, but I’m equally fearful of the effect it may have on me. Burn Cards is a gut punch—though an enjoyable one. Hurts so good is the saying I’d use.
And let me admit, once I finished it (in a single sitting) not only did I reread the first few chapters again—something I rarely do. Kudos to breaking multiple genre conventions as well. It’s not often we see a story like this that doesn’t devolve into the standard crime/noir fare. There’s great effort to provide a truly dark story here, not just another run of the mill guns, broads, and gore yarn.
Overall, Irvin’s done it again. Federales was a favorite of mine last year and Burn Cards is already near the very top of my list for 2015.
ARC of Burn Cards provided by the publisher.