Saturday, April 24, 2010

I Know Lots of People Dying Isn't A Good Time, but Read It Anyway

The Death and Life of Bobby Z by Don Winslow

Sometimes, when you're at loose ends, looking for something to do, the thought arrives that you must, before another instant passes, sit down with a book featuring a sociopath who just happens to have superb Gulf War infantry training and really, really poor impulse control, who has murdered a biker in prison  with an edge-sharpened license plate (in his defense, the biker was probably going to try to kill him eventually), who is given the opportunity to escape the death that unquestionably awaits him in the cell block by agreeing to pose as a guy he looks a lot like, a (deceased while in custody) SoCal surf and drug-dealer legend, for the purpose of being traded to a sadistic Mexican drug lord for an undercover US drug guy that the overlord has found out.  When you have a craving for some readage like that, really, nothing else will do.  Gotta have it.

You're in luck!  The Cool Hot Center can report that The Death and Life of Bobby Z fits your bill to a T.  And lest you think I may have strayed from my policy of not disclosing material plot points, let me assure you that you learn all of the foregoing within the first few pages.

I was enthusiastic about Winslow's The Winter of Frankie Machine  back a week or so ago, and Bobby Z is an equally bracing read.  Now, I am assuming that our readers here are aware we're talking about books where there is a lot of crime.  And I'm not talking about securities fraud or cybersquatting.  This is a book where everyone -- the US agent, lots of bikers, an army of Mexican drug guys, and the former right-hand-man of Bobby Z, all want the frequently-jailed narrator (real name, Tim Kearney) dead.  They do not succeed -- we know this because this book is in the first person -- and it's not just because he runs away successfully.

Tim spends a lot of time thinking about his life as a failure.  (He told the judge his problem wasn't breaking and entering -- it was breaking and exiting.)  Although, like Frankie Machine, he is highly competent at the things he needs to do to stay alive.  And in the middle of all the suspense and violence, you find passages like this:

"They had a lifeguard at the public pool in Desert Hot springs, he remembers.  They called her Big Blue because she wore a bright blue one-piece bathing suit.  No one ever actually saw her swim -- the popular theory was that if anyone started drowning Big Blue would just jump in and raise the water level so that the drowning person would just sort of wash up on the edge of the pool.  No one ever volunteered to test the theory, though, so Tim's memory of Big Blue was her sitting up in that big chair reading Mademoiselle magazine while chewing on beef jerky."

One more cool thing:  This book in its paperback version is 259 pages, and has 79 chapters.  There are numerous chapters that are 1 and 2 pages long.  You got some adult ADHD issues, this is the book for you.

Finally:  The first couple dozen chapters or so of this book take place in one of my favorite places in the entire galaxy, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park just over the mountains from San Diego.  I've hauled my bride, her grandchildren, and numerous unsuspecting friends over there to experience the desolate beauty of  this Death Valley Lite (and a cool little underground museum).  When I lived in Poway and needed to unclog the synapses I'd go by myself -- cup of coffee in Santa Ysabel, breakfast in the old mining town of Julian, then downgrade all the way to the desert.  And now, here it is, starring in this book. 

In my visits there, though, I never saw any pitched battles between a three-time loser accompanied by a six year-old boy and a phalanx of crazed Mexican drug czar minions.  So I was glad to see that someone had filled in this gap in my understanding of the area.


I promise I'll soon review something that chicks might enjoy.

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