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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. . .

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Wages of Sin Are Not Enough to Live On

By Todd Morr
186 pages
(Spanking Pulp Press; November 18, 2014)
Amazon Digital

If you get a Jones for a fast-paced crime yarn so hard-boiled you’d break a tooth on it in your picnic potato salad, Todd Morr’s ripper, Jesus Saves, Satan Invests, is just what the doctor ordered.

It is basically a chase story in which two different groups of hard cases are hard on the heels of the protagonists, a woman variously known as Margarita Corolla, Felicia and Janet and a stranger named Felix, a burglar alarm salesman she highjacks during a shootout in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

Initially the woman seems to be the real target of the chase, but eventually it comes out that Felix is the target of his own group of pursuers, and they are just as cold-blooded and hot headed as the jokers trying to catch Marge. (Or Felicia; or Janet – take your pick).

Todd Morr
The pursuit leads from one violent confrontation to the next, leaving a trail of bodies alongside the Interstate on the way. Along the way, a home is trashed, a strip club is shot up, a furniture store is destroyed  and several cars are wrecked or riddled with gunfire. The chase terminates at a safe house in the desert with more gunfire and mayhem.

There is more violence and wanton destruction in this one short novel than there is in the entire Fast and Furious movie series!

As littered as the book is with corpses and the bodies of the maimed, it is even more choked with first-rate tough guy patter and sideline cultural references that will keep the reader smiling amid the carnage.

For example, in introducing Hub, a sleazy titty-bar magnate, Morr writes:

“With Camp Pendleton sitting on the northern border, Oceanside was a military town. The city council may not have liked Hub’s places, but plenty of young men training to defend the country did. Hub made a lot of money, just a bonus. He did not open this nightspot for profit, he opened it because he loved naked women and drinking. Other than maybe rock star, not too many jobs afforded him the opportunity to indulge in what he loved. Since Hub had no musical talent, owning the club was perfect.”

A few lines further down the page, Morr observes that Hub “liked grabbing lunch at the strip club, which featured a businessman’s lunch special. Apparently some guys like to eat while watching naked woman dance.”

When Hub first meets Felix, he wrinkles his nose at the alarm huckster’s chin whiskers, piercings and cheap ensemble.  “What do you do to keep yourself affording those cool K-Mart threads?” he quips, mocking the cheesy salesman.

For every laugh, however, there is a measure of pain. In escaping the strip club, Felix and the female fugitive take out a pair of bikers, shoot Hub's bodyguard in the leg, destroy several cars and leave Hub's receptionist/girlfriend unconscious from a proper ass kicking.

Similarly, the gunfight in the furniture outlet starts seriously with lives at stake but quickly deteriorates into farce.

“Janet approached Hub carefully, when suddenly, a faintly familiar sound emitted from his dying body. Janet emptied the pistol in her right hand into him as his cell phone played ‘That’s The Way I Like It’ by KC and the Sunshine Band. The shooting helped Hub on his way to room temperature, but did nothing to stop the cheesy audio of Hub’s phone.”

Clarence, the titty-bar owner’s bodyguard, meanwhile, spots Marge/Janet/Felicity behind a display and approaches her “as quickly as a one-legged man could.”

“He was moving fast but staying low, when his foot caught the edge of one of those leather chairs, causing him to stumble. It would have been no big deal had the leg he ended up putting all the weight on not had a hole all the way through it. He bit hard on his lip to keep from crying out, and regained his balance by putting a hand on the little fake wall, which immediately tumbled forward. Bookshelves full of fake books tumbled to the floor as the wall came crashing down. Clarence fell forward too, going with the wall, which smacked the opposite faux wall, sending it forward also. Clarence rolled off the wall and into the aisle as the far wall careened into a neatly lined up living room set, including a large coffee table with a glass top, which immediately shattered. He hoped the falling walls and the destruction they were causing would be enough of a distraction.”

“It was not.”

This is one of those hot-pursuit books that serves up gargantuan portions of mayhem with mirth. Told largely from the perspectives of Felix and his running mate, Marge/Janet/Felicity, it makes you cringe and wince while it keeps you snorting with laughter.

The reader is kept guessing as to what the reason for all this death and destruction is for much of the narrative. Suffice to say it involves a shakedown racket in the nation's capital years earlier and a suicide in the prologue to the novel.

Machine guns, shotguns, revolvers and automatics – Jesus Saves has them all. There’s a low speed chase down a cul-de-sac that dead-ends at the Pacific, the abandonment of one underpowered getaway vehicle for another with even less speed and maneuverability and a showdown between two tough blondes with cage-match combat skills that one literally wins by a nose. There's even a trio of hired thugs who are all named Jones.

Best of all, it moves as fast as a long novella, so you can bang through enough high-jinks to satisfy you for a week in just one single sitting.

Jesus Saves, Satan Invests – you should follow Satan's lead on this one, trust me: this slim but hilarious volume is well worth the $2.99 investment.

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