Do you believe that a horrific, absurd thriller can't also be humorous? If so, prepare to be corrected when you pick up a copy of Pain Killers. It is, at times, laugh out loud funny.
Stahl is a phenomenon, the fellow has been dubbed "a better than Burroughs virtuoso." I'll not deliberate whether that's true or not - simply want to illustrate Stahl's genre (Permanent Midnight; I, Fatty). But then, describing his writing isn't an easy task - he's a total original, an author who will leave you anguished, amazed, and chuckling.
How's this for a scenario: sick Nazi Joseph Mengele is still alive and at the ripe old age of 97 is in San Quentin continuing his experiments on the living? He wants his due recognition, and is determined to prove to the world that he is a genius.
Former cop and addict Manny Rupert is more than down on his luck - he's out of it and about to be evicted from his house. He's approached by a very odd man (who approaches by breaking into Rupert's house). He wants to hire Rupert to go undercover in San Quentin and find out whether Mengele is really Mengele or just some poor delusional soul who couldn't come up with a more attractive identity.
Well, what's a guy to do? It's the only job offer he has and it's either take it or wind up living on the streets. He's given a fake "state certificate, proof of status as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor" and a diploma from Steinhelm Life-Skills Institute. His first stop at San Quentin? The gift shop that boasts a variety of prison oriented wares, must-haves such as paddles and handcuffs.
Perhaps his biggest surprise is running into his ex-wife, Tina, his great love. (They met after Tina murdered her first husband with Drano-laced Lucky Charms). Who can figure male-female attraction? His other discoveries while in San Quentin are often gasp producing and not at all for the timid reader.
Pain Killers is another adventure by this one-of-a-kind writer that's sure to win praises from those who enjoy not just noir but deep black fiction.
- Gail Cooke