Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review of Gun Monkeys by Victor Gischler (Dell, 2001)

Charlie Swift is a gun monkey for the mobster running Orlando. Mostly he hangs around the back room of O’Malley’s playing monopoly with his fellow enforcers. Every now and then he puts on a pair of knuckle dusters and reminds folk of their obligations. And if they fail to deliver he makes them disappear. Forever. Occasionally, Stan hires him out, which is why he finds himself with the inept Blade Sanchez and the headless body of Rollo Kramer in the car’s trunk. Rollo has been skimming off the top of Beggar Johnson’s take. The only plus in the hit is that Swift gets to meet Marcie, Rollo’s ex-wife. A short time later, Beggar wants another hit, this time in Orlando. Everything seems to be going to plan until he realises he’s just shot dead the wrong people, inherited some very hot books, and his colleagues are dropping dead. With Beggar moving in on Stan’s territory and the FBI on his tail, Swift is desperately trying to stay one step of those that want the books and him dead, whilst protecting his family and sorting out the mess.

There’s a rich sub-genre of Florida comic crime capers by the likes of Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, Laurence Shames, James Hall, Elmore Leonard, Randy Wade White, John MacDonald and Charles Willeford. Breaking into that set is a tough ask. Gischler makes a pretty good stab at it. The real strength of the book is the pace and action. It never lets up, rattling along a terrific speed. And the writing, characterization and plotting is solid. The book has a great opening, with some nice comic touches. As the book progresses the comic elements lessen, being replaced with more violent set pieces. Swift is meant to be an anti-hero – the bad guy with the redeeming side and conscience. This gets stretched to breaking point, however, given his cold blooded massacre of just about everybody he meets and the body count by the end of the book is in war movie territory. As a consequence, my connection to him waned as the book progressed. There were also a couple of plotlines that also didn’t amount to much, such as that with New Guy. Overall, an enjoyable first novel that made enough of an impression that I’ll take a read of Gischler’s subsequent novels.

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