Small Mouth Demon by Matt Zwartz
Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth, and whatever you feed it is never enough.
Some years ago, I assessed a manuscript for a writing school and gave it, my first ever, A+ grade. I fully expected to eventually see a novel out written by the author, Matt Zwartz. Small Mouth Demon is that novel.
Hawk, brilliant but floundering advertising creative, is at an all time low. He has control over the alcoholism which threatened to destroy him, but the repercussions remain. No job, no money; maybe, soon, no home. He is offered the kind of high-paying position which could save him. FOCXI is the new crypto- currency opportunity for investors. They want someone imaginative and inventive to create an inspired brand for their product. But is FOCXI bona fide? As Hawk discovers more about this company, he becomes increasingly doubtful. And increasingly alarmed as the people around him begin to die.
The exploration of crypto-currency is gripping. The setting is authentically Auckland; stylish, hectic, steaming hot, the surface glamour undercut by poverty, indifference, and self-absorption. The novel is populated by a variety of engaging characters. There is the confused, frustrated staff at FOCXI, employed by Tad and Tansy Rigby, who are almost too awful to be credible. There is clever, ever-so-slightly menacing Anh, sent by her wealthy Vietnamese family to scrutinise the events around her brother’s death and to inspect the family’s investments. Investigating the murders is curious, suspicious detective, Franklin. Then there is strong, brave Mackenzie, Hawke’s lover, and best friend and, finally, Hawk, far too cynical, shrewd and savvy to be taken in by Tad and Tansy’s exploitation and fraud but with an inner fragility and loyal disposition.
The writing is sparse, sleek, smart, the dialogue, vivid and alive. The plot hums along with twists which shock and surprise. The humour is wonderful; black, witty, and sharp. Alongside all of that, though, is a serious observation of greed and deceit within our society and, opposing that, the powerful importance of friendship, integrity and love.
Small Mouth Demon pulsates with energy, humour and, sometimes, sadness. While the novel entertains and engages it also powerfully reveals the ugliness of corruption. As with the best crime novels, it draws the reader into a world in which both the best and worst of our humanity is laid open beneath a bright and unsparing light.
Reviewer: Paddy Richardson