Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Gun Monkeys

Gun Monkeys Gun Monkeys by Victor Gischler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was excited for this one, having heard it’s one of the contemporary noir standouts. And the premise is good, if tangled: Charlie Swift is the ace muscle for an aging organized crime boss in Orlando, Florida. Heavies from Miami, the feds, and corrupt feds are all after the operation, and Charlie has to go out on his own to make everything right.

The good news is that this is one long adrenaline rush. It’s the hardboiled equivalent of the movie Speed where nothing ever stops. Or, if you prefer, it’s a modern day Fast One, Paul Cain’s 1932 supercharged parody of the genre. Charlie never stops going, never takes a break even after he’s shot a third time and finds himself depending on serious pain pills.

Gischler writes with a nice, sustained aggression, and things never bog down. It’s a full-length novel, but you might still read it one sitting – it’s that gung ho.

At the same time, though, this is so cartoonishly violent that it loses the thoughtful edge I prize in the best of the genre. This is fun – sadistic, malicious fun – but in never slowing down it also never allows much substance to rise to the surface. Charlies kills because, well, he’s a killer. And he’s loyal. And he worries about his mother and his kid brother, but there’s never much examination of why. He’s a “gun monkey” trained to do his one job, and he keeps firing until he’s finished. Others are with him or against him, and their motives are as opaque as his.

Gischler also has a nice capacity for keeping things going. Like his protagonist (but with words instead of instruments of violence) he’s a pro, someone who has the capacity to keep it all going. You can find a lot of quick descriptions that do the job efficiently and cleverly, and you can learn some useful things about writing in the genre by paying attention to how he does it all here.

In the end, there may not be much depth here, but the flash is fast and fun. You could do worse.

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