Sunday, March 1, 2009

Catching Up #22: SMALL CRIMES by Dave Zeltserman

Dave Zeltserman has just blown my fucking mind. Small Crimes is unlike anything I have read in the noir genre since the Goodis days (not that I was alive in those days or anything, just, you know, it's similar to stuff written know what I mean!). What the hell am I talking about, you ask? Example henceforth, motherfuckers!

So the plot synopsis is something like this: Ex-cop Joe Denton has just been released from county lockup after serving seven years of his sentence for mutilating DA Phil Coakley while on a coke binge. Yeah, that's right: county lockup. Dude held onto some friends tight enough that he didn't have to leave the county to serve out his sentence, just sit and play checkers with the sleepy old officer on duty day-in-day-out. No butt-rape for Joe Denton, no sir.

So Denton gets out and is immediately accosted by Coakley, whose face is now a disgusting mess thanks to Joe. Coakley says that Joe shouldn't get used to freedom because he's not long for it. See, Coakley's been talking to the local mob boss Manny Vassey, who isn't long for this world. Coakley's been reading the bible to him and is just days from getting him to give a deathbed confession implicating Joe in all kinds of shady shit. So much for a homecoming.

Then Denton talkes to his old boss, Sherriff Dan Pleasant - the shadiest of the shady - who says that it's up to Denton to take out either Vassey or Coakley in the next few days so that he doesn't bring down the whole fucking Bradley PD, Pleasant especially.

And then he meets Vassey's psycho son, who is taking over for his father, and wants Joe to pay up some old gambling debts toot-fucking-sweet...

So yeah, from that description you would expect a rip-fucking-roaring crime novel, ticking-clock shit and shoot-outs and murders and all kinds classic crime novel shit like that. Well, you'd be right to expect that - Small Crimes delivers on the pulp goods for sure - but this book has so much more subtle, painful themes going through it. It's both a devastating character study and slam-bang hum-fucking-dinger of a book. It has its cake and eats the shit out of it too.

See, what makes this bitch really sing is the smaller troubles Denton has. Yeah, he's got the crooked cops, the legit cops, and the mob out for his blood (even some really pissed off women get some licks in), but that's nothing compared to the horrible greif he gets from his family.

Denton's interactions with his parents are absolutely heart-breaking. They never visited him once in prison - not in seven years - but they let him shack up at home until he's on his feet again. But don't mistake this for a good thing. The pain he feels when talking to them, seeing the disappointment in their eyes, what's said and what's left unsaid - it's just so bleakly depressing and realistic that it is staggering.

Then there's his encounters with his estranged wife and kids. She doesn't want anything to do with him and he's not even allowed to get a fucking glimpse of his daughters. Thing is, Joe knows that she's right, but that doesn't mean he's not going to make a go of it, that he's not going to try and be a better man for all the people he has let down, his daughter especially.

But then, you know, there's this hit he has to do...with a deadline hanging over his head...

Small Crimes is basically a quest for redemption by a person we're never sure deserves it, but who you root for nonetheless. This book is a goddamn triumph for the genre. It will satiate ANY reader who likes good storytelling (and if you don't like good storytelling, then why the hell do you read novels?), but also please the nutjobs who like their genre shit to go to eleven.

Apparently this is the first in a "man just out of prison" trilogy by Zeltserman. You better believe I want a copy of Pariah in my grubby mitts like fucking tonight. Zeltserman, you've deservedly won yourself another die-hard fan in the Nerd of Noir.

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