Title: The Case of the Cockamamie Killer
Author: David M Brown
Genre: satire, mystery
Other Information/warnings: violence, homophobic language, rape, torture, death of a child
Summary [from the author]:
When a colleague is slain in cold blood, tough-guy word processor and private detective Chak Charon investigates—and soon finds himself out of a job, snatched from his apartment, and audited to within an inch of his life. Pursued by a vicious IRS agent, Charon takes refuge in a Chinatown boarding house and proceeds to discover the tax agency’s dirty little secret…at great cost.
The extended description of this books says “Mix murder, word processing, temping, taxes, gay sex, New York City, taxes and murder and gay sex and taxes and murder, add a dash of Hegelian dialectic, bring to a hard boil, and what do you get? This.”
Which is a lot more interesting than this book turns out to be – and is completely misleading about the amount of sex in the book, of which there is very little, and what there is, is non-consensual and sadistic. On which point – yuck. Did we have to make the bad guy a sadist again? How trite.
Brown is satirising the truly scary overreach of the American government and its intrusion into the lives of ordinary, law-abiding citizens. He creates a bizarro world where people are murdered, imprisoned, spied on, blackmailed and tortured for not paying the correct taxes, being suspected of harbouring those who don’t pay taxes or cooperate, or just being in the way when taxation officials try to ‘get their man’. The really horrifying thing about the story is when you realise that almost everything in this book has indeed occurred under the auspices of legislation passed since September 11, 2001, if not actually through the Inland Revenue Service.
So on one level, this works well to point out the horrors and dangers of when we allow the erosion of personal liberty in the name of the so called greater good of society.
But on another level, this is mostly an overwritten pile of confusing, offensive, and not very compelling crap.
I say ‘mostly’ because embedded in the piles and piles of hideously overblown faux noir dialogue, the cardboard characters, the totally unlikeable and unempathetic lead Chak Charon, and the barrage of sexist, racist and homophobic language, there are some individually funny lines and scenes, as when Chak tries to get a cabbie to follow a bicycle courier:
“I’m paying you! Follow the darn bike!”
The cab screeched to a halt. “You don’t gotta speak to me like that,” the cabbie said, in the tone of one who has taken offense so often that the aggrievement is pure rote though still certainly sincere. “You don’t gotta speak to me like that. No sir. I gotta make a living like everybody else. Every man gotta right to gotta job. I worka hard in this country. So don’t-a tell me I gotta breaka the law. I gotta wife, I gotta kids. I gotta mother back-a home, back in Sicily, she’s- a dying now, God bless her. Take forever. Why she don’t die already I don’t know but I gotta pay the bills don’t I? She gotta tube, ten tubes. How do I got money if’n I don’t gotta no job? If’n I don’t gotta no job I don’t gotta no money. I gotta two jobs, you know. The other one and this. If I lose one then I only gotta the other one and it don’t pay the bills. I gotta work. Every man gotta right to gotta job or two jobs.”
Charon pulled hair on both sides of his head. “I will give you one thousand dollars to go after that bike! I will send a hit man after your mother! She’ll be dead by morning!”
“Huh. You gotta one thousand dollars in-a your pocket? Well I don’t-a believe you.”
Charon got out and found himself in the middle of the street. On the right a vermouth K-Car was speeding past with a ten-year-old boy in the back seat punching his sister. The tire missed his sneaker by an inch. To his left, a rusty-chromed Toyota or Volvo. A coffee cup clipped his knee at fifty miles an hour.
Charon flourished the twenty-dollar bill. A car slowed down for him. The driver was pretty and had fluffy blond hair. “Need a lift?” she asked.
“Yeah.” Charon handed her the bill and she drove off.
If only the tone and humour was like this all the way through. It’s not. Don’t get me wrong – there are flashes of real brillliance here, and plenty of black humour. But you have to wade through a story so ridiculous, with people so unlikeable, to end up at a point of so little satisfaction, that I can’t honestly tell you to bother. Innocent people are killed hideously for no good reason, harmless people are tortured viciously for no good reason, and Charon is about as worthless a piece of shit as you can imagine a hard-boiled detective being. He’s a waste of humanity, and frankly, he’s number one reason I would never read another book by this author. At least when Bogart played a dick, you felt there was a gritty heart of humanity somewhere inside that dickish persona. Charon is a dick through and through, and the only reason he’s the hero is that he’s surrounded by people even more disgusting than he is.
Brown, from his blog, is an author vastly impressed by his own clevernesss and writing ability. On the evidence of this book, he has little reason to be.
ETA: I went out after posting this review, and came home to an email from PayPal saying I had funds. Turns out Mr Brown decided, without asking me, that I wanted the purchase price back of his book.
No, I did not, and I am utterly insulted that he took this course without asking me. If this author is that thin-skinned that he wants to respond so personally to every review, might I suggest he goes back into hiding until his hide is thicker and he matures enough to handle criticism.