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Old 25th Jun 2008, 5:51   #1
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Default Christopher Goffard: Snitch Jacket

The author of this little gem is a staff writer on the LA Times and lives in southern California. Interestingly, and considering the book’s all American setting and author, it was published in the UK seven months before the US edition. My (US) copy was sent to me by a friend from New York, I’m unsure if anything has changed between editions but I doubt it. The author has been a crime reporter so I guess it's no surprise his first novel should have a crime based theme, I just hope it hasn't left him pigeonholed as a crime novelist because he writes very well and deserves as wide an audience as possible.

Benny Bunt is pretty much a loser, a sometime drug abuser with a sickly wife, a string of dead end jobs and a bicycle. He’s clever enough though and with a remarkable memory; this particular talent making his sideline as a snitch all the more lucrative, memorising names, aliases, addresses, phone numbers, car registrations etc to be used against those who have crossed him at one time or another in exchange for pocket money. Then he meets Gus ‘Mad Dog’ Miller, a huge tattooed Viet Nam vet with a reputation that goes way ahead of him.

Mad Dog Miller’s legend preceded him. ‘Mad Dog lobotomised a whole squad of Viet Cong with a chopstick,’ people whispered. And: ‘Mad Dog survived six weeks in the Khe-Sanh mountains on his own urine.’ The first look you got of him – the gimlet eyes blazing through crooked glasses, the crimson face with the riot of exploded veins, the gigantic tar-streaked Norse-god beard – well, you could even believe it. Bedlam in the bones, his face proclaimed…

…The night I first saw him, he was throwing his war medals against the wall and wearing a necklace of human ears. I knew right away I wanted to be his friend.
But this is no buddy novel, Benny is a pathetic individual looking everywhere for a hero; his father abandoned him, his stepfather beat him. He switches between Gus Miller and Detective Alberto Munoz, a bronzed and muscled, decorated officer of the law who you just know is going to do the dirty on the gullible Benny.

The story never moves far from it’s central location until the last few chapters:
The Greasy Tuesday is a one-room, sawdust-floor dive on Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa, on a block the Orange County Chamber of Commerce will never allow to blight a postcard.

The place attracts all the local ‘legends’ as Benny describes them, fences, gambling addicts, burglars and the like, the most unusual being a quadriplegic hit man who coaxed his targets close to whisper to them then bit through their jugulars. These people play no more than bit parts in the story though, that belongs to Benny and Gus who begin their moral decline as they become ‘friends’. Both have likeable sides, though it’s Benny you feel for the most.

And this was the USP of the novel for me. Benny Bunt is a grass, he snorts crystal meth, smokes marijuana, hates his wife and his miserable existence, reads comics and rides a bike! Yet I liked him, wanted to save him from himself and the sometime killer Gus, wanted to give him a slap for trusting the crooked cop. The book, though darkly funny throughout, has no happy or even hopeful side, it’s a downhill slide all the way and the ending a desperately sad one. The author did leave the faintest glimmer of hope though. I don’t think he was doing anything as crass as leaving an opening for a sequel, just that chink of light that I’m sure he knew the reader would need.
It’s described in various reviews as noir, I wouldn’t call it that. Grimy is more like it, whatever the French for grimy is? It’s not genre crime either, many passages in the book make it worthy of the L word, though I don’t suppose it will be considered for any ‘L’ awards. Here’s a description of the dawn chorus in Benny’s neighbourhood:
Dogs ran through your dreams on Pomona Avenue.
Even before dawn, all across the block of low-rent tenements and dirty, laundryline-streaming cinderblock flats, the dogs started going at it: the terriers, the rotts, the pits, the porch chihuahuas and the stray guttermutts, the reedy altos, tremulous tenors, and mournful crooners sending up their cries, conducting obscure long-running debates, haranguing, reinforcing their hierarchies, the cruel alphas threatening their cringing inferiors with rape and quick death, the whole block moaning for food or sex or sniffable pisspuddles or hydrants to baptize with a raised leg, or whimpering in thrall to cravings that their dog-throats couldn’t even name. You learned to sleep through the noise but it permeated your sleep and sent you dog-themed dreams.
I for one, thoroughly enjoyed it, literary or not, and will pick up Mr Goffard’s next offering as soon as I hear it’s available.

Reading: Apathy For the Devil - Nick Kent

Last edited by BiNS; 26th Jun 2008 at 4:24. Reason: sp.
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