Dirty Boots, by Mike E. Purfield

dirty-boots-by-mike-e-purfield coverGenre: Horror
Publisher: iUniverse
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Paul Kane

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Dirty Boots is a difficult book to quantify. Is it a road story? Is it horror? Is it science fiction? Is it a teen angst novel? Is it a serial killer thriller? Is it all of these and more? The simple answer is yes, but then Mike Purfield is a writer who doesn’t choose the easy option. There are no simple answers in his book, so you won’t find any in this review either.

Page Shelly is a seventeen-year-old middle class schoolgirl, doing well in her studies and in her social life. For her it should all be a breeze. Unfortunately she’s also suffering from a terminal disease and her father is dead, leaving her to be brought up by a less than perfect mother. On the advice of a psychic friend, she decides to head off for Florida to live out what little time she has left…To live out her destiny.

On the way she runs into – literally – a boy called Sam Young: the product of white trash apathy who can’t read or write and isn’t really wanted at home. The pair strike up a peculiar friendship, but Sam isn’t all he appears to be. You see, things happen around him, things he can’t control or prevent. He has absolutely no idea why his appearance changes involuntarily sometimes, or how he can move objects by only thinking about it. But he does know that he needs to get to Arizona, and now Page is going with him.

It won’t be an easy journey though. For one thing there’s a psycho called Dan on their trial looking to kill the demons of his past over and over again. For another, there’s a big surprise waiting for them in the shape of a religious cult and an artist who takes a fancy to Page. So will there be a happy ending for the pair, and will they ever discover the reason for Sam’s strange powers…? You think I’m going to tell you that? Read the first paragraph again.

This is a very impressive first book by screenwriter and filmmaker Purfield – and I have to say it would make a very good movie itself (directed by the author one day perhaps?). The characters are credible, with the relationship between Page and Sam taking centre stage – I particularly liked the way that this defies your expectations and doesn’t go the route many other novels might have done. The dialogue is naturalistic (and nowhere is this more apparent than in Page’s high-school conversations at the start: “Talk to me when you know what you’re talking about, little girl with the cherry between her legs.”), and the action rattles along at quite a pace.

I can see all kinds of possible influences in this book, from Tarantino (watch out for the shop robbery scene, which is also very Cronenberg) to Richard Laymon (there’s a section where Ramsey Campbell is mentioned as well), from Close Encounters to Carrie, from soap operas to Thelma and Louise. There are also some classic bits of black comedy, like the scene where Sam tries out his telekinesis and succeeds only in breaking wind…Or how about when psycho Dan tells a victim, “You know, you’d be a lot happier if you wore your hair more like a woman,” and is told, “You know, you’d be a lot happier if you didn’t kill so many people.”

That’s not to say there aren’t a few flaws. I would have liked to have seen more made of Dan near the end, and there are sections where a little more explanation or some pointers would’ve been nice. But these are really minor quibbles. If you’re looking for a good read, something you’ve never experienced before, then this is the book for you. So get down and dirty and get booted up!

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