RARA-AVIS: Gun Monkeys

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 31 Mar 2003

Someone recommended Victor Gischler's GUN MONKEYS (2001) to me, but I can't remember who. I don't hold it against them, whoever it was, even though I dropped the book half-way through and it's already on my donate- to-the-booksale pile. (Gischler's been published online by a number of rare birds, I noticed with interest, but I haven't read any of those stories. This is his first novel.)

The story is narrated by a Florida hood, an enforcer, a gun monkey, who works for an octogenerian gangster named Stan. We meet him, at the start of the book, driving around with a headless corpse in his trunk. Soon Stan asks him to take care of some business, and he walks into a bar and shoots everyone inside. A day or two later, he leaves someone bound in a bathtub with scalding water running. The assumption is that the hot water heater will run out before the fellow dies.

That's where I dropped the book. I don't mind grim stuff in books, but it's got to be handled right. The screwball tone of this book was all wrong. To have a sociopathic criminal narrate a story in a breezy manner takes a lot of skill to pull off, and Gischler didn't manage it. Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME was in the first person, but it was a masterpiece. Stark's Parker books are told in the third person, and Parker takes things seriously. He may kill people if he needs to, but he's not joking around. GUN MONKEYS is derivative of PULP FICTION, the movie, and it might work as a movie. Some of the scenes seem written with that in mind.

The whole thing hinges on the enforcer's loyalty to Stan. Now, when a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it, but when his boss is killed he's not supposed to make blustering speeches of devotion that make other people, who were going to side with the incoming gangster, clench their jaws and remember that old Stan did help them buy this house, didn't he, and by God he always remember their birthday, so they'd help after all. It's just too forced and too cliched.

Reading this right after Pelecanos's SOUL CIRCUS certainly didn't help it, either.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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