This is a book that begs to be put up on the big screen. In fact, I was constantly reminded of Richard Linklater's take on "A Scanner Darkly," visualizing this as a better framework. Not that there's anything wrong with "Scanner," but "Plainclothes" beats it with a rusty razor-studded belt for sheer drug-drenched slapstick. The pages turn like a Jim Thompson potboiler read out loud blindfolded in a scramjet scraping the treetops at full throttle. Jerry Stahl has here sketched out a cartoonish burg riddled with misfits and sex maniacs, as if all the world's twisted psyches gathered for a crazy convention in one small town about the size of 300 pages or so. The words glide along the concourse of your mind in horse-sized slaps. This is the kind of prose that makes you do double-takes; some lines have to be repeated because you can't believe you read them right the first time.
If you've dunked your eyeballs into Stahl's earlier "Perv: A Love Story," you're no stranger to his brand of verbal assault, scenarios that no God-fearing person could read straight through without feeling that spine-scorching flash of guilt. However, while "Perv" was like a more demented version of Disney's "Small World" boat ride, populated by child rapists, deformed bullies and schizophrenic daredevils, "Plainclothes" is a sort of angel dust-flaked detective pulp novel with tongue firmly wagging through hole in cheek. The impetus of the tale involves the presidential scrotum. Oh, and it's a Last Tango-esque love story to boot. Manny, a former heroin addict cum codeine junky, is a police detective blackmailing everyone he knows. When he stumbles on the scene of a wife who's offed her hubby with a bowl of Lucky Charms, Draino and one mashed-up lightbulb, he falls in love and gets a gander at a photo involving George W. Bush, the town's mayor (formerly knowns as Manny's wife) and G-dogg's family jewels markered up in a happy face. To get to the bottom of the story behind the snapshot, Manny will have to tangle with the likes of a sexually abused, crack smoking killing machine; a delusional police chief immersed in a Hollywood fantasy wherein his biggest concern is casting a star to play his part; and a rest home nurse who's into S&M. Stahl proves once again that's he's the best thing around since I had to give up taking acid alone because I could no longer handle walking the plank above hell and hearing my echo repeating into the infinite for hours on end.