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- Click here to read Joe Hartlaub's review.


Review #1 by Tom Callahan

Imagine if the greatest hard-boiled and noir publishing house in the world brought together two of the greatest hard-boiled and noir writers in the world to work on a series. That is exactly what happened 10 years ago when Hard Case Crime brought together Ken Bruen and Jason Starr to work on a novel called BUST. Two more installments, SLIDE and THE MAX, followed.

Now, Hard Case Crime has released PIMP, which may be the greatest installment of the series so far. And if you think noir is depressing and a downer, this will alter that view forever. This is a laugh-out-loud crime story of desperate and despicable characters acting terribly. It is also a sarcastic and sardonic look at the writing business, Hollywood and the entire “greed is good ethos” of capitalism. These characters are willing to do whatever it takes to enrich themselves and their delusional egos. Ethics is for suckers.

For Max Fisher, it has been a long and crooked road, indeed. He started with a computer software company in New York City, which he owned while having a robust affair with his busty and beautiful Irish secretary, Angela. Together, they were plotting the murder of his wife. BUST was James M. Cain on enough steroids that he could hit 1,000 home runs.

But things did not work out well; they seldom do in either noir or life. Max became a drug outlaw, killer, and managed somehow to escape from Attica prison after just a few months --- all the while convinced that he was the most important thing on the planet since oxygen.

"PIMP is a wild ride of sheer fun and entertainment. Fans of both Bruen and Starr will love this book.... Hard Case Crime once again proves why they are the greatest hard-boiled and noir publishing house in the world."

Lady Luck then takes a hand. When PIMP starts, Max --- in bad disguise as an Irish man after plastic surgery --- stumbles upon a new designer drug, called PIMP, which stands for Peyote, Insulin, Mescaline and a liberal sprinkle of Psychosis. Bruen and Starr describe Max as looking “like Philip Seymour Hoffman after the autopsy.”

Of course, Clyde would not have been much without Bonnie. When last we saw Angela Petrakos, longtime fans of the series were disappointed to see her bleeding out from a gunshot wound to the chest administered by a serial killer outside a gas station in Canada. I hoped at the time that Bruen and Starr would save her, and indeed they have. Minus a lung, she works her way to the last stop for desperate dreamers in America, Hollywood, California, which, as the great Nathanael West reminded us in 1939’s THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, is the place where some people go to seek fame and fortune or “come to California to die.”

Not so much the latter for this bunch.

Despite being on the “wrong side of thirty-five,” Angela manages to get a foothold on something out there, falling back on her experience in the porn industry as Brandi Love. “I could have been a great femme fatale,” she not so modestly proclaims. Or something. She would like to be an actress and meets up with a producer “in a career tailspin,” Larry Reed. In Hollywood, everybody pitches, so Angela pitches him on a property: “It’s ‘Breaking Bad’meets Pulp Fiction with an Irish twist… It’s called Bust.”

Bruen and Starr’s take on Hollywood is the funniest thing written about the movie business since Elmore Leonard wrote Get Shorty. And you can almost see Danny DeVito playing Reed. But having taken on Hollywood, the authors do not stop there. Enter Paula Segal, “tired of her career as a midlist crime fiction writer.” With fewer opportunities for writers these days and publishers cutting back, Paula needs a breakthrough. She, like many scribblers, is also totally delusional. Max, who she interviewed in Attica, is her ticket.

With this new designer drug, PIMP, sweeping the nation and Max again a national figure, everybody wants to get a piece of the action on the movie, especially Max himself. Angela declares, “I’m a player, goddamn it, not a whore. Well, I have been a whore --- but not anymore. I’m a Hollywood player now, and ya better get used to it.”

The Bust movie project soon has five desperate, drugged and dangerous executive producers, far too many delusional megalomaniacs even for La-La Land. The primary to winnow down the number will be deadly, reuniting Max and Angela. But Bruen and Starr are two of the greatest noir writers, so do not forget or overlook the truth of noir: nothing is as it first seems. Hollywood loves happy endings, an alien concept for Max, Angela and these characters.

PIMP is a wild ride of sheer fun and entertainment. Fans of both Bruen and Starr will love this book. If you have not read the first three installments of the series, do yourself a favor and read them all. Hard Case Crime once again proves why they are the greatest hard-boiled and noir publishing house in the world. 

Dare I say this should be a movie? I hope Ken Bruen and Jason Starr will bring back Max and Angie. Perhaps as politicians seeking the highest office in the world. Why not? Since when is fiction stranger than reality?



Review #2 by Joe Hartlaub

I can only say that I am happy to have lived long enough to see another Ken Bruen and Jason Starr novel hit the chute. When two of your favorite authors collaborate as perfectly and seamlessly as they did on a literary noir trilogy a decade ago, and you’re already of a certain age, you start doing or avoiding certain things in order to prolong your life --- looking both ways before jaywalking, cutting back two desserts per meal, and carrying on only with those married women who live on a ground floor --- so that you will be around in the event they get together and do it again.

PIMP, the newly published joint effort by Bruen and Starr, features the return of anti-hero, miscreant, criminal, drug dealer, or whatever-you-want-to-call-him Max Fisher to the book racks, courtesy of the godheads of perfection at Hard Case Crime. As with its predecessors --- BUST, SLIDE and THE MAX --- it is as good as it gets, from its hilarious and no-doubt heartfelt dedication and the epigraphs that perfectly begin each chapter to the dialogue that shoots through every chapter (every paragraph, actually) contained between the covers of this instant classic.

"You don’t have to read what has gone before to enjoy PIMP, but you will want to at some point just for the sheer madcap enjoyment of experiencing two masters of the crime genre do a literary dance without missing a step and carving up friends and enemies alike."

Those familiar with the prior individual work of these two sons of different mothers will note that their collaborative efforts seemingly and seamlessly spawn a third, different voice, one that slices and dices any number of (more or less) public figures while bringing us up to speed on the lucky Max and the host of secondary characters who travel in his wake. Since his well-timed escape from Attica, Max has been hiding in disguise and plain sight, working on the down-low as a bartender in an Irish pub in Portland, Oregon. A chance encounter puts him back in the drug business, manufacturing and dealing PIMP, a drug that is an unholy combination of Peyote, Insulin, Mescaline and Psychosis.

If it sounds like fun, it is, and the worst sort as well, but it is popular enough to get Max back to New York where his ill-gotten gain eventually moves him from a Harlem tenement to more upscale digs across from an NYPD precinct house where Joe Miscali, his law enforcement nemesis, obsesses over his prison escape and plots his recapture, little knowing that the object of his wrath is mere steps away. Meanwhile, a former midlist mystery writer and a less-than-famous Scandinavian scribe have finished and published a book about Max’s life entitled Bust. When the book is optioned for a movie, Max’s former companion, Angela Petrakos, hatches a plan to get a starring role in the project, playing herself.

These plots --- and more --- bounce across PIMP like cannonballs in a boxcar, as Bruen and Starr take vicious and hilarious shots at the film and publishing industries. With respect to the hilarity, don’t read this book while you have fluids, personal or otherwise, in any body cavity; at some point you will probably lose them, and embarrassingly so, somewhere between the beginning and the end of the proceedings, and more than once. Lest you think that Bruen and Starr are heading gently into their respective good nights, there is plenty of violence and not a little sex to be had here as well.

You don’t have to read what has gone before to enjoy PIMP, but you will want to at some point just for the sheer madcap enjoyment of experiencing two masters of the crime genre do a literary dance without missing a step and carving up friends and enemies alike. The question that PIMP raises, though, is whether or not its publication portends another trilogy. We can only hope that that inquiry will be answered in the affirmative.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan and Joe Hartlaub on March 17, 2016

by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr

  • Publication Date: March 15, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Hard-boiled Mystery, Mystery
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Case Crime
  • ISBN-10: 1783295694
  • ISBN-13: 9781783295692