Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review of A Choice of Nightmares

Robert Staples is, to put it bluntly, shit out of luck. A washed up B-movie actor he has landed in the sun blasted landscape of South Florida, where he ekes out a living being a generic "celebrity." As Lynn Kostoff's A Choice of Nightmares (New Pulp Press, 2010), opens he has even put that tenuous living at risk by chucking a barking dog into an alligator pit during a mall opening. His agent gives him a chance to redeem himself through the simple task of delivering an envelope, but Staples screws that up, and quickly finds himself pulled into the world of cocaine smuggling, where he bumps up against decadent, dangerous, and depraved characters. And he finds himself loving it. For a man with few options and fading dreams, the world of cocaine and easy sex offers what he needs: Escape.

Escape, however, is something that's not easy to come by. It's easy to run, but no man can hide, and Staples is eventually forced to confront himself, decide who he is, and see if he can the ultimate luxury: a way out alive.

First published in 1991, A Choice of Nightmares, sank without making many ripples in the publishing pond. New Pulp Press has scooped the other reprint houses by scoring the rights to this one. Although Hard Case usually reprints old novels, Charles Ardai ought to be kicking himself for not putting his imprint on this novel. It's certainly more than good enough for that imprint. Kostoff's story takes off from the first line of the first chapter, and his characters are well drawn. His femme fatale, Denise and his psychotic hitman Barry from Palm Springs, who could easily have been cardboard cutouts, turn out to be unexpectedly deep and very disturbing. Denise, in particular, is an enigma that proves resistant to analysis. In the end, it's the ambiguity that Kostoff maintains throughout the story that makes it such a compelling read. He refuses to give in to the temptation to provide simple answers, making the story all that much more satisfying, at least for readers who eschews easy answers and pat endings.

1 comment:

Charlieopera said...

This is a terrific read, so here's another review: