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Low Life [Hardcover]

Ryan David Jahn
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 July 2010

When Simon Johnson is attacked in his crummy LA apartment, he knows he must defend himself or die. Turning on the lights after the scuffle, Simon realises two things: one, he has killed his attacker; two, the resemblance of the man to himself is uncanny.

Over the coming days, Simon’s lonely life will spiral out of control. With his pet goldfish Francine in tow, he embarks on a gripping existential investigation, into his own murky past, and that of Jeremy Shackleford, the (apparently) happily married math teacher whose body is now lying in Simon’s bathtub under forty gallons of ice.

But Simon has a plan. Gradually, he begins to assume the dead man’s identity, fooling Shackleford’s colleagues, and even his beautiful wife. However, when mysterious messages appear on the walls around Simon’s apartment, he realises that losing his old self will be more difficult than he’d imagined. Everything points to a long forgotten date the previous spring, when his life and Shackleford’s first collided. As the contradictions mount, and the ice begins to melt, the events of the past year will resolve themselves in the most catastrophic way.

Combining gritty noir, psychological drama and dazzling plotting, Low Life is a shocking novel that announces Jahn as a brilliant new voice of modern America.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; First Edition edition (2 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230746829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230746824
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 22.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 921,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ryan David Jahn grew up in Arizona, Texas, and California. He finished school at sixteen, worked several odd jobs, and spent time in the army before moving to Los Angeles, where he worked in television and film for several years.

He published his first novel, the CWA John Creasey Dagger winning Acts of Violence, in 2009, and has since published three others, Low Life, The Dispatcher, which was long-listed for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and The Last Tomorrow. Translation rights to his works have been sold in twelve languages.

He now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife Jessica, a beautiful four year old named Matilda, and two dogs, Truman and Paul.

Product Description


'Inventive, existential take on the psychological thriller by a rising LA-based talent.' --Daily Mirror

'If it's gritty noir and psychological drama that you are craving, then be sure that you check out Low Life . . . a gripping, adrenalin-filled page-turner.' --Sunday Herald

'This twisting psychological mystery is a smarter-than-average crime thriller that seeks to challenge the reader at every turn.' --Waterstone's Book Quarterly

'Fancy a thiller? Acts of Violence and Low Life will keep you turning the pages through complex but rewarding plots.' --Sunday Post

'Fans of tales of paranoia by the likes of Gil Brewer and David Goodis will enjoy the Kafkaesque twists and doom-laden tone.' --Irish Times

About the Author

Ryan David Jahn grew up in Arizona, Texas and California. He left school at sixteen to work in a record store and subsequently joined the army. Since 2004 he has worked in television and film. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife Mary.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
RDJ's first book, Acts of Violence, promised much and it was a delight to discover that his next novel, Low Life, lives up to that promise. This is a gritty, well written, occasionally bewildering and utterly compelling thriller. It wasn't quite 'unputdownable' but I had to finish it in two huge sittings, entranced by the plot twists and the unfolding, bitter mystery.
The first couple of chapters really exploits RDJ's writing prowess, establishing the core character in his seedy, literally low life existance in LA. You can almost smell the sour nylon socks and mouthwash/whisky rinse. In fact the opening, descriptive chapter is about the slowest in the whole book -- once the doppelganger appears and violent murder is committed, it all gets out of hand very quickly. And the murder itself is graphic and quite detailed. RDJ doesn't pretty it up for fiction: you get the feeling that this is how real life violent death would go down with all its gory interludes and unpleasant consequences.
RDJ is something of a stunt writer. His earlier book interweaved the threads of several lives and played with the timeline so we could see how they intersected in one awful moment. He plays a similar game with Low Life -- but even if you spot what is happening as the plot unfolds it is still extremely rewarding to follow the action through to the end. I really didn't know what the final outcome would be, although it loomed large throughout the last few chapters.
So if you enjoy fast-paced thrillers of the bleak and gory sort then you should love this. If your tastes tend more towards mainstream action-adventure romps then Low Life may be a little dark and violent for your tastes. For me, it's delightful to read such excellent writing in a 'genre' publication -- RDJ isn't doing anything particularly new, but he puts a great spin onto a subject that's as old as time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A solid read 7 May 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A harrowing and twisted psychological mystery. Following the complete mental breakdown of a person society would classify as a 'nobody'. This 'nobody' is Simon Johnson, who becomes conviced he has murdered someone physically identical to himself when they break in. This mind-bending event in itself is typical of the whole book, as the book hurtles through a world imploding. It will leave you reeling in a mess of your own knowledge and understanding of what is right and wrong. Are you really the sane person? So clever, it will make your head hurt.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Weird 13 Feb 2011
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Low Life is one weird novel. It's a pacy, well written novel which has the reader eager to turn the pages - sadly it means the novel slips through the fingers all too fast.

We meet Simon, a bit of a loner who has crummy job, lives in a crummy apartment and a coupe of friends who don't like him. He comes home one night and finds an intruder in his apartment who seems hell bent on killing him. For someone whose life is as sad as Simon's, the temptation would have been to go along with the plan and allow himself to be put out of his misery. Instead, though, Simon kills the intruder and sets about finding out who he was and why he wanted to kill Simon.

This all starts out in a pretty straightforward fashion, but things get progressively weirder. It would spoil things to reveal exactly how the weirdness happens, but the reward for rolling with it is a clever little twist. Whether it will satisfy readers of the grittily realistic Acts Of Violence (Jahn's first novel) remains to be seen. Perhaps it is just a little bit too short; a little bit too gimmicky for its own good.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A twist of Hitchcock 26 Dec 2010
Following the success of the mesmerising 'Acts of Violence' , Jahn's attempt at that tricky second novel does not disappoint. In 'Low Life' the reader is drawn into a twisting, psychological mystery, as we follow the mental and physical breakdown of an unassuming individual seemingly adrift in society. Simon Johnson believes that he has brutally murdered an intruder who is his physical double, leading him into a chain of events that are perfectly Hitchcockian in their rendition reflecting Jahn's filmaking roots. A smarter than average crime thriller that seeks to unsettle and challenge the reader at every turn.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant an original thriller 29 Oct 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This novel seems to be the literary equivalent of Marmite - reviewers seem to love it or hate it in equal measure.

It certainly differs from the generic formula of many thrillers, and for that it should be praised. Personally I love the book, which I ordered on the strength of the author's first novel, Acts of Violence.

The story starts off innocently enough, the protagonist, Simon Johnson interrupts an intruder in his home and in the ensuing struggle, kills him. When Simon turns on the lights, he is surprised to see the man he has killed looks almost exactly like him. Rather than go to the police, Simon decides to investigate the matter himself. From then on, things get very strange indeed....

One reviewer compared the novel to the film Donnie Darko, and that is a very good comparison to draw. Just as with Donnie Darko, Low Life moves seamlessly from it's very normal and mundane opening to it's surreal and strange ending. The author exhibits great skill in this, and the novel's progression towards it's conclusion appears very natural, rather than in stilted and erratic jumps. At no point in the story does the reader exclaim "that just wouldn't have happened", but at the conclusion of the book, the reader will appreciate just what an odd chain of events have occurred.

In my opinion, the best comparison I can make to this book is the film, The Machinist, starring Christian Bale. In both The Machinist, and Low Life, the central character is plagued by the belief that he is being persecuted by forces unknown and manipulated by events beyond control. Again, in both, the protagonist seeks to solve the mystery that has engulfed them culminating in similar denouements.

In summation, I thought this was a cracking novel.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly awful
Nothing like the other Ryan David Jahn books I've read and enjoyed before. This was cryptic in parts but obvious in others. Very slow going..
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. L. McAllister
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping read
I had trouble putting this down. Bit confusing at times but believe that was the intention. Gripping and descriptive writing.
Published 10 months ago by sharnder
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best voices in modern crime
Loner-accountant Simon Johnson goes to work even on weekends to kill time in his worthless life. In the evenings, he gets drunk to fall asleep faster and not think about nothing. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Ray Garraty
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit different
Simon comes home to his apartment to an intruder who wants to kill him. Instead, Simon kills him and sets about finding out why. Simon as a character isn't very likeable. Read more
Published on 3 April 2012 by Gemma
2.0 out of 5 stars Low Interest
Low life Simon, is attacked in his home but kills the intruder, and on noting some physical similarities, decides to take over the dead man's life. Read more
Published on 28 Feb 2012 by Kartowidjojo
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't read if you've seen the machinist
This is more than a reasonable enough thriller. It's no understatement to say that the process of reading it was vastly more rewarding than the time I attempted to organise the... Read more
Published on 6 Jun 2011 by Wayne Redhart
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent thriller
This book reminded me of the Twilight Zone stories, or the Outer Limits. A real page turner ( groan). It had me guessing right to the startling end. Read more
Published on 28 Oct 2010 by 70s
3.0 out of 5 stars Great writing but the plot twist is too predictable
Simon Johnson leads a dull life. He works as a number cruncher for an LA payroll company, has an uneasy friendship with two work colleagues but other socialises little, lives... Read more
Published on 12 Oct 2010 by I Read, Therefore I Blog
4.0 out of 5 stars How low can you go..?
This is a captivating and imaginative thriller that messes with your mind but telegraphs the 'twist' ending almost from the start. Read more
Published on 26 Sep 2010 by Captain Pugwash
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