An engaging black comedy set in the greedy mid-1990s.

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Bank of The Dragon: The Tale of a Chinatown Banker

In this darkly comic debut novel, an incompetent law-school graduate gets in over his head as counsel to a bank in Houston’s Chinatown.

“I have no idea what I’m doing here,” whispers Lazaro Mendoza to an elderly Chinese man at his new job. It’s something of a theme for Lazaro, who’s clueless, lazy and prone to petty theft and drunkenness. He graduated as an average student from a third-rate law school in 1996, and as he awaits the results of his bar exam, he tries to fill the position of in-house legal counsel to the Cosmopolitan Bank of the Far East. The name may sound exotic, but the bank is housed in a dismal strip mall in Houston’s Chinatown, where Lazaro has to fight grocery shoppers for parking spaces. From his office window, he can see the sparkling, magnificent Enrico Tower, where his hated rival, Edmundo Vicente, now works. In school, both were members of the Latino Law Students Association; Lazaro joined just to get other students’ course outlines. (Lazaro’s idea of a great lawyer comes from a TV show called San Francisco Law.) Enrico, an energy company with dubious business practices, bears an obvious resemblance to Enron; while showing off to Lazaro during a visit, Edmundo blithely darkens a third of California. Lazaro, meanwhile, is tasked with foreclosing on families in poverty. It eventually leads him to a difficult choice, which produces ambiguous results. The flawed and culpable Lazaro may be a difficult character for readers to spend time with, as his life is one long anxiety dream. In his unprepared desperation, he bears some resemblance to the hero of Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim (1954), a much funnier and sunnier novel. The comedy gets very dark indeed, but it’s not quite outrageous or bitingly satirical enough to stand with the best of the genre, such as Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961) or Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939). However, Gunn does get off some pointed zingers and creates some outlandish characters, including a hunchbacked stripper, a madam/pet-shop owner, and a feng shui master, that round out the colorful cast and effectively add to the comic tone.

An engaging black comedy set in the greedy mid-1990s.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-1475016383

Page Count: 232

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2013

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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