Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review of Snitch Jacket

Say what you want about the Edgar Awards, but last year's nomination of Christopher Goffard's Snitch Jacket (2007, Rookery/Overlook) is probably responsible for keeping this gem of a book from sinking into undeserved obscurity. Goffard, a Pulitzer nominee, brings a reporter's eye for detail to his work. The result is a well told, entertaining tale of California losers that manages to be both funny and sad at the same time.

Benny Bunt is a nobody. He washes dishes at a Mexican restaurant. He doesn't own a car, and his only friends are barflies at a dive called The Greasy Tuesday. Oh, and he rats out these friends for extra cash because he's a professional snitch. He snitches because he's always wanted to be a cop, but couldn't make the cut. Benny has a deep seated need to belong, but he doesn't fit in anywhere. So, when Gus "Mad Dog" Miller walks through the door of the Greasy Tuesday, Benny wants desperately to be his friend. Gus, a giant wall of tattoos and scars, who quickly takes over the bar, telling stories of his time in Vietnam and stints in prison.

Miller quickly wears out his welcome at The Greasy Tuesday, but he and Bunt hit it off. Miller needs an audience and Bunt needs approval, so they quickly form an unhealthy bond. It is this friendship that is at the heart of the story. It would be very easy to make the reader feel contempt for such characters, but Goffard draws them so clearly that the reader can't help but be drawn in and go beyond pity and contempt to sympathy. Goffard does such a good job painting the relationship between Bunt and Miller that the murder-for-hire plot that becomes the story's center almost seems incidental.

This is not to say, however, that Goffard's plot is thin. It does take a while to get going, but once it does, it leads up to a bizarre climax, which invloves a funny send up of Burning Man, and he manages to throw in several plot twists in the book's final section, all of which work nicely. Hopefully, this book is just the first of many from Goffard.

No comments: