A Brief Review
This is a murderous little chapbook – I wanted to say ‘sweet’, positively, for its compact, neat and fine production by The Emma Press, but this doesn’t empathise with the theme – and the poetic narrative of cowardly opportunism, deception, blackmail and disintegrating hope is as absorbing as it is entertaining.
The book is a one-sit read and I did so today outside in the hot sun which was most apt for its heated story of decapitation and a vainglorious journeying with and without the head. That’s Joaquin Murrieta’s head, or it might not be, but it is definitely someone’s head, pickled in alcohol and watching developments with the same sense of wonder as we do.
Writer John Clegg, who won an Eric Gregory Award in 2013, offers up crisp narrative, an incantation of dialogue, and many deft poetic touches, mostly as couplets, that describe and depict, for example
‘There’s the flat rocklip
that kept the rifle level.
There’s the waterfall
whose shallow bristle
flung back sun
like rocksalt from a 12-bore.’
I haven’t mentioned Captain Harrison Love, the California State Ranger who travels with that head in a jar, but this would be telling. As for the four Joaquins – I say four assuming it is Murrieta’s head which means it can’t, strictly speaking, be five – there is a diminution in their story too that I also won’t spoil here for other readers.
And this is a semi-spoiler alert: for those who know Jim Thompson’s The Getaway, stop reading now.
I just want to conclude that The True Account of Captain Love and the Five Joaquins has its own unexpected finale which reminds of Thompson’s storytelling drive through grotesquery [OK, Clegg’s isn’t on the same blood-curdling level, but those eyes do pop out] to an ending we wouldn’t have expected, and I commend along with all the other good elements in Clegg’s text, his arrival at its own mystery.
More details and get it here.