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Some nights you can hear screams rising up from The Eyes, the abattoir on New Cut Lane. Those screams belong to the animals queuing up to be slaughtered there. Well, most of them do…
The Eyes is a brutal place to work, let alone die. Many lives have been lost there over the years, sometimes due to faulty machinery, sometimes because of disease, and occasionally when the trapped animals turn on their executioners. But it remains the only employer for most of the people who live in and around the town of Red Meadows. The alternatives include alcohol, random violence and suicide. Some might say those were vastly more attractive. Junko Cane would disagree. Having clawed his way back from a grim life of gang warfare, he is happy with his job, despite the ogreish abattoir boss, Max Grappen. The work, though unpleasant and treacherous, puts food on the table for his wife and child. Life, such as it is, has its comforts.
The shadowy past that Junko has tried to leave behind won’t give him up so easily, though. When he stumbles across Max Grappen’s key card Junko’s curiosity gets the better of him and he uses it to access the hidden world of his employer. But he is not the only person investigating Grappen’s past. The enigmatic Boa Cleethe, injury analyst, is also suspicious of the abattoir chief. And Junko’s nemesis, crime lord Krave Wheaste, is breathing down his neck.
What Junko and Boa discover together will not only put the wider population of Red Meadows into terrible danger, but will menace Junko’s fragile family and expose the shocking, insane and murderous secrets of The Eyes.
“Williams’s basic plot, that of the once-violent man who must resume that existence and the bloody results of his choice, is one familiar from Western and crime dramas. Williams’s success is in using that well-established plot as a frame on which to hang an exploration of memory and identity. In one of the novella’s more striking scenes, Junko and the other workers at the slaughterhouse watch the approach and crash of an unscheduled delivery train whose contents are so horrific as to be stupefying. It is a fitting trope for the impact Junko’s resurgent past has on his and his family’s lives. As often happens in Conrad Williams’s longer work, the ending of the narrative brings with it the revelation that certain aspects of the story its protagonist has just survived have been hallucinations; yet in this case, such disclosure only highlights the conjunction of Junko Cane’s inner and outer worlds.”
John Langan, Dead Reckonings