You’ve got to love a potboiler with Camels, Camaros, and black and blue Caddies; with characters called Jimmy, The Tall Man and Sally Fuck; with bars and motels dubbed The Time Out Lounge and The Guess Who; with double-crosses that turn triple in a flash. Add an Indian lush named Anita who’s good with a gun, pees “musically” (nice touch) and Johnson’s quick-read noir is guilty pleasure, Saturday Matinee-style.
Jimmy Luntz, a two-bit gambler who also sings in a barbershop chorus, falls afoul of a debt to Juarez, a Mexican-sounding gangster who’s really Lebanese. Out comes his lug enforcer, Ernest Gambol, and gunplay follows. Meantime, karaoke-loving reservation escapee Anita Desilvera, swindled by her prosecutor husband, hits a dive and hooks up with Jimmy, now on the California lam from Juarez and Gambol. At stake is revenge and $2.3 million, not in that order.
Johnson’s story, guns and gore glued together by intensely brutal if temporary loyalties, sits squarely in the bittersweet tradition of American gangster literature. But Johnson has a poet’s affinity for losers and drunks. Gambol, freshly shot by Jimmy, wakes from stupor: “He felt his head nodding forward and rode a Ferris wheel down into violent cartoons.” Sprite-and-vodka Anita has a “smile that would have blown the doors off Jesus Christ.” What else could you want from a matinee? Have a nice day