US Softcover First
Publication Date: December, 2001
$15.00; 284 Pages
Date Reviewed: March 3, 2004
Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004
The first sentence of 'Gun Monkeys':
"I turned the Chrysler onto the Florida Turnpike with Rollo Kramer's headless body in the trunk, and all the time I'm thinking I should've put some plastic down."
'Gun Monkeys', Victor Gischler's debut novel, is fast-paced, grimly violent sleaze, elevated from the crowded noir category by terrifically witty prose. He proves, should anyone doubt, that exceptional prose can turn the merely ordinary into an extraordinary winner.
Charlie "The Hook" Swift, senior gun monkey/enforcer for senile Orlando mob boss Stan, is quick with a gun, strong on loyalty, and great at tidying up annoying loose ends. When Stan faces loosing his Orlando territory to the younger and meaner mob boss from Miami, Charlie's loyalty compels him to make the gallant effort to do the right thing rather than simply the smart thing, which would be to run for his life.
'Gun Monkeys' is cluttered with quickly drawn characters, most of them goons from one mob or another, with names like Blade, Beggar and Jimmy "The Fix". They all get shot at and they all die; some even loose their heads, literally. On the other side of the fence, there are any number of Feds, some following the straight-and-narrow, and many more turn-coat Feds looking to cash in on the lucrative booty generated by Orlando's mobsters. They all get shot at and they all die, most with heads intact. In fact, so many characters get shot in this novel, it's understandable that Gischler wastes little time endowing them with particularly unique personalities. They serve but one role - grist for the mill; fodder for the next shoot out.
'Gun Monkeys' careens from one shoot-out to the next, from murder to mayhem, at a breathless pace. No time for sensibility, or even sex, very little time for threats and intimidation, and certainly no time for rumination or reflection. It's classic mob-style violence beyond the pale, with bullet holes in foreheads and bodies in dumpsters. Re-load, re-arm, re-fire. Drive somewhere else (almost anywhere will do), re-load, re-arm and fire again. To remain alive, however severely wounded, at the end of this book is no mean accomplishment; it's a sign that Gischler surely has plans for your literary future.
Charlie Swift, the protagonist, has a smart mouth, every kind of gun you can imagine, an often-voiced hatred of cigarettes, a heartfelt love of his family, and an unusual fondness for National Geographic magazines. His new girlfriend, Marcie, is a tough-tender taxidermist, the perfect match for someone in Charlie's line of work. She's not squeamish around dead things and they make a great "snuff and stuff" duo. Charlie's a thug with heart who can shed a tear or two as well as shoot with guns in both hands. An off-beat hero to be sure, but one the reader can easily root for.
Gischler's prose is turbo-charged with energy and darkly funny. Narrating in the first person, Gischler is not catty, not flippant, not derisive and never mean-spirited. His writing is pared down and lean, and his words are clever, contextually real and simply, deliciously, hilarious. From the opening sentence, which has to rank as one of the best openers ever, 'Gun Monkeys' delivers a fresh take on good old-fashioned sleaze, written with great style, enormous energy and even greater wit. Even George Bush will be pleased. Charlie is extraordinarily fond of duct tape and uses it frequently and with inventiveness.
The Uglytown softcover first edition sports their usual quality production and attention to detail, with partial gatefolds front and back, and their signature "what this mystery is about" and "people this mystery is about" sheets in the front.