Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Slide, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr

The new Hard Case Crime book by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr picks up (in more ways than simply plot) where the previous one, Bust, left off. The pulp end of the crime fiction spectrum is so stylized, in the pure form of the genre, that an author constantly risks tipping his story over into parody. Most of the Hard Case Crime series stays tantalizingly on the "serious" side of the line, but Bruen and Starr, this time, shift joyfully over into the "comic" side. There are in-jokes in abundance, with Bruen appearing as a mugging victim and copies of Bust and other Hard Case books lying around as set decoration. Presumably, the 2 authors wrote alternate sections of this 2-pronged story, with Bruen contributing the Irish serial killer plot (one of his specialties) and Starr the modern entrepreneur gone to seed plot (definitely his specialty)--but in both cases they've turned their usual style up a notch, obviously having fun with the terms of the genre as well as their own previous works. Max, the entrepreneur of the (mostly) New York story, thinks he's tough when he tries to talk "street," which he does idiotically badly. Slide, the would-be serial killer, does an equally bad impression of Al Pacino in Scarface. The two female characters, Angela (from Bust) and Felicia (a stripper, of course) have in common that they have spectacularly bad judgment when it comes to both men and money. The plot is fairly simple: Max (the entrepreneur held over from Bust) wakes up in an alcoholic haze, somehow having landed in an Alabama motel. Discovering the joys of crack, he recruits his Southern contact, an unbelievably naive, Bible-thumping young dealer, as his supplier for a new career as a New York crack dealer. Meanwhile Angela, having fled to Ireland after Bust, falls in with a sadistic but not-too-bright would-be serial killer (whose nickname is Slide) and follows along on his crime spree from Dublin back to New York, where the two stories will inevitably collide in mayhem. Bruen's sections (I'm guessing, but it's pretty clear) are a combination of his Brant and his Taylor series, but freed from any constraints regarding violence, sexism, and self-parody--I've never been a big fan of the Taylor series (though I've always liked the Brant books), but the seriousness of those previous novels (even Bust) is clear when compared with the wild comedy of Slide. Parody can be a lot of fun, but there's a risk that comes along with it: can the reader ever again take pulp-noir fiction seriously after experiencing its comic travesty in a book like Slide?

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