It’s taken me longer than I wanted to get around to reading 809 Jacob Street – for no other reason than time. I read my books in order of purchase, and Marty’s book was a little ways down on my ‘To Read’ pile. And yes, I just called him Marty, so this review will come with a disclaimer: while I was not at all involved in the production of 809 Jacob Street, Marty Young is one of my mates and all ‘round good guy. Oh, and to top it all off, 809 Jacob Street (Black Beacon Books) won the Australian Shadows Award in the Novel category a few weeks back.
Righto. Let’s get started, shall we?
And we will begin with the act of a spoiler declaration…so…umm… SPOILER DECLARATION! READ ON AT OWN SPOILERY RISK!
809 Jacob Street follows the stories of Byron and Joey Blue (and to a lesser extent, Iain and Hamish), and their interactions with the town of Parkton, or more specifically, the house on Jacob Street. I was first introduced to Joey Blue via a short story Young wrote for ASIM #48 (Joey Blue and the Gutterbreed), so I was very much looking forward to reading more about him. Joey Blue is a down-and-out blue’s singer who now spends most of his time at the bottom of a bottle — so much so, his past is almost a mystery to him. But Joey is aware there’s another part of Parkton, a much darker side that hides in the shadows. And it’s coming for him.
It’s Joey Blue with whom we start the story, and Joey’s in a bad place. His friend Gremlin is dead, but that doesn’t stop him stalking Joey and begging for his help. Joey can see those stuck in the veil between worlds, and they can see him, too. They’re aware, and Joey knows better than anyone that once the Gutterbreed are aware, there’s no end to the torment. Joey must make the trek to 809 Jacob Street.
Next we meet 14-year-old Byron who has just moved from Australia to Parkton. And hates it. His only friends are two outcasts, Iain and Hamish. Right from the beginning, there’s something off about Iain, and as the story progresses, the reader’s given glimpses into a psyche that is truly damaged. Hamish, is more an unwilling participant in his ‘friendship’ with Iain, and like Byron, seems to be carried along on the tidal wave that is Iain’s quest for answers at the house on Jacob Street.
The house has a history of blood and violence known to all in the town, and Young has made 809 almost its own character within the story. Iain taunts Byron with legends surrounding the house, and the pragmatic Byron refuses to believe the hype, which sets him on a path that can only lead to one place.
Both Joey Blue and Byron are on a collision course with the house on Jacob Street, and there’s no doubting it’s not going to end well for them. Young ramps up the tension the further into the book you read, and while I knew we were heading for a blood-soaked ending, I couldn’t wait for all the players to step over the threshold of number 809.
There’s quite a bit of backstory given, especially where the boys—Byron, Iain and Hamish—are concerned. At times the pacing was a little slow, but that could be more to do with Young’s build-up of the house through Byron’s eyes. Still..
We’re given a few chapters from Iain’s point of view, and this furthers the reader’s understanding that nothing good can come of the boy’s entering the house, but you know it’s inevitable – Iain will damn well make it so.
While Joey and Byron live in entirely different worlds, they do cross paths, albeit briefly, but this has weighty consequences toward the end of the book. There’s one particular scene—Joey’s walk up Jacob Street—that still resonates with me. Young outdid himself with this scene – it’s so perfectly and vividly described.
I’m not going to spoil the end of this book for readers, but once in that house… things don’t go well for anyone. But it’s in the house where Young really brings his storytelling finesse to the fore. Tension, action, fear, monsters, inner-demons, the dark… it’s all here, and I wasn’t disappointed.
When I turned the last page of the book, I was unsure of how I felt about it as a whole. It was a good read with great characters, and some damn fine imagery but there seemed somewhat of a disconnect between Joey Blue and the other players in the story… almost as though they were two stories spliced together that didn’t quite gel, and I think that’s more to do with the structure of the book – once Joey enters the house (about a quarter of the way into the book) he’s almost forgotten until the end.
There were a few more grammar and spelling issues than I’d have liked to have seen in the book, but that could well be the editor in me. Some of those issues, though, should have been picked up.
809 Jacob Street is on the smaller side of the novel-spectrum, and there’s little doubt in my mind that the story could well have supported a higher word count, where we could have delved a little more into Joey’s story and strengthened that connection between Joey and Byron. I’d have gladly read more, and that alone speaks to Young’s work.
I can’t finish without mentioning the illustrations provided in the book. David Schembri, who also created the cover-art, has given the book that extra dimension with internal illustrations throughout. I very much liked them, and it’s always great to see an artist’s rendering of both characters and monsters.
Overall, 809 Jacob Street is a solid first novel for Marty Young, and showcases the author’s ability to create great characters (or in Joey Blue’s case – fantastic ones), and there’s little doubt Young is storyteller who’s well on the rise (some of his phrasing is just beautiful). I’m looking forward to reading more, and if that last chapter is anything to go by, then more there will be.