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Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite
Craig Wells is a writer of bold ideas, and his narrative can be ribald when the situation calls for it. In A Stranger to Strange Fruit: An Artist’s Portrait of Murder and Mayhem, he doesn’t shy away from vivid illustrations of the dark side of the human psyche. Consider his protagonist growing up with an abusive father who has little regard or respect for elderly women and is even more abusive toward his own son. So where does a young boy transitioning into a young man go to escape cruelty from someone who’s supposed to render love and care? Billy, the main protagonist, finds solace and comfort in the pursuit of artistic expression. Billy becomes drawn to a girl who prods his scruples for allowing a guy named Derk to murder his old man. More unrest ensues in Billy’s life as he appears to have no choice in following Derk’s bidding.
To his credit, Craig Wells provides justification for the dark nature of his novel. The book’s detailed descriptions feel extremely three-dimensional. One can picture a woman’s sweaty armpits based on the word choice that Wells uses. The reader may vicariously experience discomfort on the theme that A Stranger to Strange Fruit delivers. But then the topic of murder is never comfortable to begin with. This novel does deliver moments of awkward humor. The language and the treatment of the topic it explores are not difficult to fathom. One can find comfort at moments of renewal and for that, this book offers optimism amid its murder backdrop. Wells tells this story as it is from the point of view of its main protagonist. Refreshingly, he pays scrupulous attention to character formation, and he is no less attuned to the pet peeves of ordinary people.