Three dead artists plot a prison break.
Johnny Chambers is in prison for armed robbery—a crime he didn’t commit. Soon after he enters prison, Chambers meets fellow cons David Madejas and Vinny LePugh, a Cajun from Louisiana who says “ta” instead of “the” but whose speech is otherwise standard American English. Both men, he learns, have had near-death experiences, and that fact alone is enough to convince Chambers that something supernatural is afoot. “I began to check into the possibility of these men being reincarnated,” Chambers, the first-person narrator, says. “There were a few books in the library on reincarnation. One book talked about people who took on the ego and personality of someone from the past.” With those bizarre sentences, a book that started out like a Johnny Cash song—a realistic but fairly clichéd one—turns into a book in which the souls of Mozart (Madejas) and Van Gogh (LePugh) are now incarcerated in Huntsville, Texas. Approved by the prison psychologist, the reincarnation entitles the two men to art supplies, musical instruments, and the time and space to paint and compose, all courtesy of the warden. (One bit of proof that Madejas is the reincarnated Mozart is that, after his accident, he dreams of streets made of water—Venice. Not quite the same thing as Vienna.) Had the author gone whole hog and given his characters and his story over to the sheer ludicrousness of the premise—and if he’d had the chops and the humor to do so—this could have had the makings of a cult hit. Instead, it’s serious about its strange plot, including deadpan sentences like this one: “Dr. Robinson filed her report with the warden, agreeing that the two probably were reincarnations of Van Gogh and Mozart.” Dr. Robinson may believe that after asking couple of short questions, but readers won’t.
A wild idea, but thinly plotted and underdeveloped.