Saturday, April 18, 2009

Catching Up #27: Tom Epperon's THE KIND ONE

The Kind One is not gonna blow your hair back with its bad-assery, nor is it going to register on your pretentious douche-meter with any wild stylistic choices, but it is a solid story solidly told. Tom Epperson's novel is comfortable and fun to read. That's really all that can be said about it.

Okay, that's bullshit. The Nerd always has more shit to say than that.

The Kind One is the story of Danny Landon, a hood under the employ of vicious gangland boss Bud Seitz. It is the 1930's in Los Angeles. Prohibition has just been repealed and gangs like Seitz's have to find another way to stay in power other than bootlegging. Danny Landon is one of Seitz's most vicious enforcers, known as Two-Gun Danny following an incident where he took down a ship full of innocents with a gun in each hand.

At least that's what he's told.

See, Danny can't remember anything before almost a year ago when he was said to have gotten his ass beat by some rival gangsters. He's got the scars to prove it, but other than that he has no idea who the hell he is. The weird part is, sometimes it seems even his fellow hoods are sketchy on the details of his past. Worst part is, if he was a violent thug before the accident, he sure doesn't feel that way now, a fact that makes him a weak link in Seitz's organization.

Regardless of Danny's worthlessness as a thug, Seitz seems to have a soft spot for the kid and asks him to serve as a bodyguard to his beautiful girlfriend Darla. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Danny fell for Darla and began to question who he was before the head injury...

There's nothing fatally wrong with The Kind One - in fact, it is pretty enjoyable most of the time. Epperson - the co-screenwriter of the great crime film One False Move - knows how to keep a story moving. Thing is, there are so many cliches throughout the novel you can't help but roll your eyes sometimes. Even from the brief description I've given you, there's no doubt some of you smart-asses that think you can already foresee how shit wraps up - and you're probably right.

But there are plenty of crime novels that play it close to the cliches and are fucking awesome regardless. For the most part, that shit wasn't what bothered me so much about The Kind Ones as the bizarre shifts in tone. When Danny is doing mob shit in the novel, things are brutal and twisted (which means, you know, I liked that part of the book). But when he's at his bungalow hanging with his neighbors, the book gets about as sappy as can fucking be.

See, Danny's two best non-underworld friends are Sophie, a plucky-yet-abused twelve-year-old and Dulwich, a kindly old Englishman who lives with his adorable cat Tink (short for fucking Tinkerbell, naturally). Of course, these two are supposed to figure into Danny's final shot at redemption (if you didn't see it going there, you're not much of a reader), but I don't really see why Epperson had to make them so goddamn fucking cheesey!

I mean, I could almost understand the sentimentality used in these passages if Danny were a heartless killer when he's not at the bungalow, but he's not. He's skittish about violence and blood and doesn't really do anything badass until the end. Therefore, why does the author insist on making him so goddamn fucking likeable all the time by having him pal around with an old duffer and cute kid? Yeah, for sure the violence and mob shit is often fucking brutal stuff - murders committed over nothing, teeth flying out of mouths, brains spattered on dresses kind of shit - but Danny is just a mild accomplice at best in this mayhem. I'd still feel sympathy for him regardless of whether or not he has a cute kid and fuzzy kitty hanging around his fucking ankle. But maybe Epperson has a different kind of audience in mind than the NoN (jesus, let's hope I'm no one's ideal audience!).

But despite the rampant cliches and occasionally cloying cutesiness, I burned through The Kind One. Like I said, it's not gonna fucking "wow" you, but I can't say you won't be entertained. The best thing I can say is that it is certainly a comfortable read. I'm definitely interested to see where Epperson goes from here. I feel like he could go either way, either be a badass noir dude or a general audience historical thriller guy. Naturally, the Nerd of Noir hopes he'll come to the dark side....

1 comment:

HoratioHellpop said...

Hey, Love the blog! Regarding the Comics arena, I know you've read Scalped. Was wondering if you've read 100 Bullets, which I feel was the ultimate noir comic. It just ended and I was curious if you were a fan. Not sure if you're one to pick up the monthly books though or if you wait for the trade paperbacks. Either way it was a masterpiece of a story, comic or not. Thanks for all the recommendations