Tuesday, May 23, 2017


EPIPHANY JONES by Michael Grothaus (Orenda Books, 2016)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Jerry has a traumatic past that leaves him subject to psychotic hallucinations and depressive episodes. When he stands accused of stealing a priceless Van Gogh painting, he goes underground, where he develops an unwilling relationship with a woman who believes that the voices she hears are from God. Involuntarily entangled in the illicit world of sex-trafficking among the Hollywood elite, and on a mission to find redemption for a haunting series of events from the past, Jerry is thrust into a genuinely shocking and outrageously funny quest to uncover the truth and atone for historical sins

This is a bizarre, brilliant crime debut that is likely to divide readers. A 'marmite' book, you could say: some people will love it for what it is and tries to be, and others just not 'get it' or why others love it. I fell into the first category. It's not an easy read though. There is a lot of very dark stuff in here, with mentally disturbed characters and horrific acts secreted away - and although it's leavened with plenty of humour, it's dark, twisted, sick humour that (again), could be off-putting.

Outrageous is an apt description. Stunningly original would be another.

"Tonight I’m having sex with Audrey Hepburn."

Grothaus sets the tone from the get-go, with our 'hero' Jerry indulging in a bit of self-love to a pornographic version of the late Hollywood icon. Jerry's a slippery character that you find yourself rooting for regardless of his mountain of flaws, foibles, and fuck-ups. Grothaus's writing has a verve and energy to it, full of life that sucks you in despite the disturbing, unusual content.

Jerry's dealing (or not) with an overwhelming amount of past trauma, working at an art gallery (a job that's a favour from his mother's ex), and with a circle of friends that's exclusively imaginary. Only one of the figments of his imagination turns out to be real. Maybe. When a priceless Van Gogh goes missing from the gallery and Jerry is blamed, he goes on the run. But not before attacking his mother with a dildo. Yes, a dildo. It's madcap, crazy, crime fiction, but Grothaus somehow makes it work.

Jerry joins his non-figment, Epiphany Jones, on a rollercoaster sojourn to Mexico then Europe, as the pair hunt for Epiphany's missing daughter, who's fallen into the clutches of a sick predator. At least, that's what Epiphany says. But can Jerry (and we) believe her?

This is gutsy, courageous, crazy crime writing. There are plenty of 'tough subjects' out there that many authors avoid, even if they're a big part of our world, and Grothaus dives headlong into the morass. Not just picking at one as an underlying theme, but weaving together a dark yet funny tale from threads from many. Addiction, mental health, pornography, human trafficking, the cult of celebrity - nothing is off-limits for Grothaus, who rides the absurdity curve while delivering a delicious skewering of broadly held perceptions. All with an obsidian-like sense of humour.

A stunning, highly original debut that's disturbing, funny, and brilliant.

Or you might hate it.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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