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What motivates a character in fiction to look into a murder? For a detective it's their job to find the killer and bring them to justice. For a Private Investigator the aim is more selfish as they will be paid for their results. It's when you move away from these obvious investigative areas that the motives become more diverse. An elderly lady may look into murder as a hobby, whilst a burglar may find himself on the case to clear his name. What motivates an investigator will determine many aspects. Are they willing to break the law to achieve their goals, are they looking for the killer to bring them to justice or revenge? The hunter does not always have to be the good guy, what if a person was only interested in discovering who a murderer was so that they could blackmail them?
Cutter and Bone are not your usual crime fighters. Bone is a man who abandoned his wife and young family to live on the coast and waste his life on loose women and cons. Cutter is a war vet who lost an arm, a leg and an eye in Vietnam. One thing he did not lose was his nasty sense of humour. Between them they set out to solve a murder, not for pride, but cash. If they can uncover who dropped the body of a teenage girl in a dumpster they may be able to blackmail them. With their unorthodox style and inability to get along they may be heading into far more danger than they can ever imagine.
The first thing I should warn people about with 'Cutter and Bone' is that the book is very bleak and a little bit depressing. This is because Newton Thornburg has crammed the book full of flawed and unlikable characters. Most authors try to create a central hero that you can rally behind and want to be with. Thornburg has decided to be more unforgiving and instead creates Bone. Bone is a bit of a loser who once had it all but decided to drop out. He is almost emotionless and would rather just let everything slide than get involved. This means that he never hinders anyone, but will never go out of his way to help anyone - pleasant.
What makes the reader even more hardened is that Bone is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the book! Cutter is far worse; a man tortured by his own disabilities he uses his astute mind to try and bring others down to his level of misery. This may be understandable on some level, but it does not make him any nicer. Having two major characters who are unlikable should make the book a chore to read, however this is not the case. As Thornburg describes, both Cutter and Bone have a charisma that draws you to them even f they are constantly doing the wrong thing and only looking out for themselves. In a sense the selfish way the book unfolds is actually a refreshing change from the cookie cutter crime books out there. A modern author who writes similarly to Thornburg is a personal favourite of mine, Chuck Palahniuk. Both these authors challenge a reader to enjoy the book by putting obstacles of poor taste in the way, and in most cases manage to pull it off.
It was not the character studies in the book that made this an average read, but the lack of story. I know that it was meant to be a bohemian adventure about drop outs going nowhere, but that ends up being a little boring. There is this core idea that Cutter and Bone are looking for a killer, but the fact is they never get close enough to the case. I found the aloof nature of the killer in the book quite interesting. The suspect is often mentioned and researched, but you never get to meet them face to face and are never allowed to judge them for yourself. We can never be sure if he is a killer or someone that the two men have become fixated on just to paper over the limitations in their own lives.
With its slow pace and lack of narrative 'Cutter and Bone' is not an easy or particularly pleasant book to read. Anyone going into it expecting a crime novel with a simple structure and clear line of black and white is going to find this horrendous. However, if you go into this book as an offbeat character study you will come across some of the most interesting and harsh characters put to paper in the crime genre. Both Cutter and Bone are as about as appealing as two week old stale cakes, but like the cakes, there is something that draws you to them and you eat anyway!
Author: Newton Thornburg
Price: amazon uk - £7.49
play.com - £7.49