Breathing through my nose by Ralph Robert Moore

A review

If you’ve never been in to short stories, then this book might be the one that gets you hooked. The collection centres around Donald Duke – a unifying constant.

These are stories about characters, characters that drive the reader forward because you want to know so much how things are going to end up for them. So, let’s take a closer look.

Common themes and styles: sexual tension, food, violent pasts. Not your usual cocktail, but Moore is no ordinary writer.

The Job

Our first glimpse of Don. We don’t know much about his character but we quickly learn he has ‘skills’ – in a Liam Neeson/Taken kind of way. He’s hired to recover a woman’s husband in this first story – alive or dead. His plane’s gone down in a remote part of Mexico and the wife wants to accompany Don and his team. The sexual tension ramps up from the beginning, together with the threat of violence and an uncertain end. The conclusion fixes in our mind the kind of man Don is.

Lam

‘I couldn’t get an apartment on either side of them, both were rented, so I got an apartment directly behind them.’ With this opening line you’re hooked straight away. Seems like Don, the MC, is stalking a couple – why? Well, he wants to get to know them, that’s for sure. Don’s that kind of guy.

Moore writes phrases that say everything without stating the case obviously. For example, the statement: ‘Bed Springs’ – after a couple stop talking. In this tale, we learn how to cook hot cheese chicken and shrimp etouffe. Food is a central theme to Moore’s storytelling and you get yourself immersed in the narrative through this device.

At the end, you get to empathise with all concerned, even if not everyone makes it through (or deserves to make it through.)

Broken Hands

By now I’ve realised that Don is a private hit man (don’t know why it’s taken me this long to realise it – perhaps because it’s never stated, this isn’t a Tom Clancy thriller after all.) Again, more references to food, such an effective tool to create characters, establish mood and appeal to the reader’s senses. Don has a variety of killing methods, but he likes to know the story of the people he’s hired to kill – and those who hired him.

The bad boy

Don’s target in this story is a disturbing one. Will he cold-heartedly target anyone for the money?

Food is provided by a mother – Italian meat stew.

Moore touches on a problem that sometimes preys on the imagination of us all – how to deal with a kid who is intent on causing trouble, and there’s nothing you can do about it? The kid throws rocks, but that’s not his only problem.

In this story, Don is asked: ‘You ever kill a dog?’ Answer – ‘Yeah, at the age of 13.’ The arc of a man’s life can be traced in terms of cruelty to animals – a drip feed of characteristics.

More food – ladyfingers soaked in espresso and cognac, topped with mascarpone cheese.

There’s a subtle twist about the rocks at the end which has implications for the mc. Look out for it.

The salt on the steak

One of the food items in this tale is chilled shrimp. There are others.

A protective father becomes estranged from his daughter. She falls into bad company. He wants his revenge. But this hit is different – the man wants to do it himself, which carries risks for Don. He charges the man double the price, but there are conditions. You’ll have to read the story to find out what they are and how it ends.

You start wondering what the significance of the title is. It appears about Half way through the story.

By now, the reader is building a picture of Don, how he got to be where he is today, the things that shaped him, the things that motivate him. So far, there are no answers, so you have to read on in the hope that you will find out.

Career opportunity

In which Don makes a mistake and it has serious consequences. The job? Bump off an ex-cop-come-business man who has disrespected a mobster’s wife in his employ. Don likes to know his victim and why he’s been marked, and so it takes a while to find out about him. Don becomes an employee in the guy’s firm, gets to know the people who work under him. It’s all part of the job, and I’m getting the feeling Don likes his job. How else would it be that he carries on taking the assignments after being paid large amounts of money? Probably enough to retire on. Read this one to see how Don has vulnerabilities and how he nearly gets derailed.

Prodigal

The story opens with food again, this time cooked by Don’s mother – a dolma in avgolemono sauce. Why has Don returned home after all these years? After catching up with his brother and sister, he spends the night in his old bedroom. Next day we learn why he’s made the long trip home after over a decade. We also learn about the corrosive effect of a vindictive neighbour on their family life, something of how Don came to be the man he is, and how his first romantic relationship helped determine his life’s journey. I was struck how Moore mixes the mundane with the dramatic to create page-turning tension in this story. Thanksgiving dinner and its aftermath provide the perfect backdrop to what unfolds.

The Right Way

The final story switches pov to ‘Roy’. This throws the reader. Why is this happening? Will the story even include Donald Duke? How will Moore wrap things up?

Needless to say, the author takes care of all these questions and I guarantee you won’t see the nature of the endgame coming. I was glued to this final story right up to midnight and couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished.

 

This collection isn’t horror, the stories have no supernatural element whatsoever, in fact Moore puts himself in a category of his own. Like I said, once you’ve read a story by Ralph Robert Moore you’ll want to keep reading ‘em. In conclusion, might I say that I could well be trying out that recipe for hot cheese chicken. Not sure I’ll be inviting Don, though.

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