Friday, February 05, 2010

Book 11, 2010: Gutshot Straight

Shake Bouchon knows he shouldn't open the trunk, but he does it anyway. How else would he find the girl? Stir up mobsters in L.A. and Vegas? And find himself trying to hock a packet of ancient foreskins in Panama for a cool $5 million?

And how else would the reader have such a great time?

Shake, short for Vanilla Shake, the sobriquet given Bouchon by fellow inmates in the prison where he's serving time for GTA, short for grand theft auto, is the main character in Lou Berney's hugely entertaining noir-ish Gutshot Straight.

Within 24 hours of his release from prison, Shake opens that trunk. There's a girl inside. She tells Shake she's a Mormon housewife whose husband has gone missing. It isn't long before he realizes she's an ambitious stripper who has ripped off Vegas mobster, Dick Moby, aka The Whale.

The plot is secondary here. It's entertaining, and without slowing the action down for a heartbeat, Berney does a great job with Shake's philosophical musings on the importance of making wise choices. Shake decides he makes good choices about half the time, which explains why he's in so much trouble so quickly.

That's a nice little twist on the genre, but what's most entertaining -- and Berney is channeling Elmore Leonard here -- is the dialogue, mostly between Shake and the beguiling stripper from the trunk of the car, and the whole aura of coolness that these two strive for and strike.

Yet what I liked best about Gutshot Straight is that as much fun as the first 270 pages are, the final 21 pages are even better. The penultimate scene is a brilliant parody of an armed showdown and the final scene, well, the final scene is just flat funny.

Gutshot Straight is an appropriate title for the risks Shake takes, but the book reads more like four of a kind.

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