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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Itchy Trigger Finger

The Spartak Trigger
By Bryce Allen
170 pages
Publisher: Bedlam Press (March 14, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1939065593
ISBN-13: 978-1939065599

If David Lynch scripted a spy novel featuring a hardboiled detective and set in a dystopian future with a remarkable resemblance to our own present, it might look a lot like Bryce Allen's debut novel, The Spartak Trigger.

And then again, it might not. There are no dancing dwarves, for example. No exploding shacks in the middle of the desert. Not a single Cabaret-esque emcee to leer at the audience and provide that requisite Lynch touch of weirdness.

But Spartak isn't plenty of weird without it: a morose albino, a pimply nerd who can get into almost any computer system, steal anyone's identity and create passable identification documents, even passports, a TV announcer with a lazy eye who's involved in some sort of massive fraud, and a non-profit called the Myopic Deity Convention which supports the Chinese oppression of Tibet.

Not to mention a conglomerate of social networking organizations that wants to take over the world and enslave every man, woman and child alive.

Oh, wait. That isn't the weird part; that's the part based on what's really going on.

Bryce Allen: Spartak is like a spy novel with a hardboiled
detective hero scripted by David Lynch. And laughs. Lots of laughs.

Let me summarize:  Shane Bishop, crooked ex-cop turned private eye -- of a sort -- works for a company called Sancus that hires out to "dirty up" corporate executives so that the companies they work for can get rid of them.

After a series of assignments, Bishop finds himself framed for murdering one of his targets. He undertakes an investigation to find out who is really responsible for the slaying and the reason it occurred, but is sidelined into a series of side plots and narrative digressions that seem to move him no closer to a rational explanation.

Let me put this succinctly: this is really pretty funny stuff. A lot of it is so over the top that it will have you shaking your head with that little smile on your face that Bill Murray wore when Dustin Hoffman pulled off his wig on national TV in "Tootsie." This, my friends, is one nutty hospital.

At first this seems to be a straight hardboiled tale. Then the strange-o stuff starts until it is flowing as hot and fast as spilled diner cooking fat.

Eventually the reader begins to wonder how much of Bishop's story is real and how much is simply his own -- or somebody else's -- fantasy. Our protagonist seems to be engaged in a constant internal conversation with a "narrator" who offers minor observations about the details of particular scenes, descriptions of what is happening around him and other ephemera. These "narrations" are more like stage directions than actual story-telling. They really narrate nothing.

Plot lines suddenly double back on themselves inexplicably. Ludicrous coincidences pile up like zombies at a shooting gallery. At times Bishop seems amazingly shrewd; at others, so stupid he couldn't find his asshole if he was sitting on his hands.

Eventually, you begin to doubt whether Bishop even exists as anything other than a character in a story somebody is writing. What makes you wonder are passages like the following:

There’s an awkward pause in the action and then the editor starts giving the narrator crap about the alarming number of typos and other such gaffes that he’s finding in this allegedly “finished” manuscript. The narrator defends himself by claiming that he’s *intentionally* included a specific quantity of typos [and] various other grammatical/syntax-related mistakes in order to give his work an ‘unstructured, spontaneous, Kerouac-esque’ feel.

Along the way, Allen seems to violate many of the key rules of narrative technique. But as the internal commentator who lives inside Bishop's head says at one point: "The narrator doesn't seem to care since he’s not ‘bound by the shackles of traditional storytelling.' "

Did I mention already that Spartak Trigger is a parody? Oh. Sorry about that.

I'd go on, but that would be telling. Instead, let me just say that by the final page, most everything has been explained. Sort of. Don't worry about the loose ends, though: getting to them is more than half the fun.

As Bishop might say: "Pretty weird. Also pretty gay."

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