Candy and Cigarettes, by CS DeWildt, is a literary dark crime novella that's as dark and grim as they come.
Lloyd Bizbang has had a hard life. His two-year-old sister accidentally drowned in the bathtub while he was supposed to be watching her. After the accident, he moved in with his grandparents where he also, accidentally, caused his grandmother to fall down the basement stairs and break her neck. He spent his remaining childhood moving from foster care to foster care, enduring beatings and cruel mocking over his death-filled past.
Lloyd is now in his twenties living in the small, dying town of Horton. After enduring another cruel attack by the town's two sociopaths, Lloyd escapes to a junkyard and stumbles upon something no sane person would want to find. He's soon accused of more murders by the town's vile police chief, who seeks to clear up his own loose ends before his forced retirement.
If DeWildt sought to leave his readers tense and depressed after finishing the book, he certainly nailed it. That's not a criticism. DeWildt's style and language were spot on for this type of story, and I found myself cringing with dread at each turn of the page. Not dread in the classic horror sense, but a profound uneasiness regarding what the characters would soon endure.
For me, it brought to mind Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Though the stories were completely different, the writing style and the matter-of-fact way both authors show their villains conduct their gruesome business were very similar.
The only nitpick I had was that there were no characters I wanted to root for. Lloyd was the "good guy" in the sense that he was the protagonist, but he wasn't someone I respected. I mostly felt sorry for him. However, that could also have been what DeWildt was trying to do, and if so, he succeeded.
Overall, I highly recommend Candy and Cigarettes to fans of McCarthy and dark literary fiction. It won't disappoint.