The brainy young author of three critically praised historical mysteries (including the Edgar-winning A Conspiracy of Paper, 2000) moves on to a murderously funny thriller set in contemporary Florida.
Recent high-school grad Lemuel Altick, who narrates, is selling encyclopedias door-to-door to finance his future college education—unfortunately, in a rundown trailer park where he pitches his goods to down-at-heels couple Karen and “Bastard.” Enter the eponymous assassin, who blows the pair away, then cheerfully informs the nearly catatonic “Lem” that their deaths were necessary. Then things get weird, as Liss weaves together multiple plot strands. The primary one involves homicidal redneck police chief Jim Doe, who’s also mayor of the “municipality” the trailer park has been legally declared—making it a lucrative speed trap that helps fund Doe’s secret Cayman Islands bank account. But that’s only the tip of a malodorous iceberg that also includes the crooked encyclopedia operation, a hog farm where animals are brutally mistreated and the “waste lagoon” containing their by-products, which doubles as a dumping lot for the rising body count. Handling his dippy plot with ease, Liss simultaneously keeps the wisecracks coming. Lem is tutored in the possibilities of sex, the ethics of animal rights activism as explained by the imperturbably genial assassin (self-identified as Melford Kean) and the collusive misdeeds of “The Gambler” (yes, his name is Kenny Rogers). Among those we meet are hog-farm heir William “B.B.” Gunn (whose creepy compulsion to “mentor” preadolescent boys actually isn’t sexually oriented) and lissome moll Desiree, a Siamese twin separated from her late sister Aphrodite (whose channeled “advice” keeps Desiree somewhere in the vicinity of the straight and narrow). It all ends, to nobody’s surprise, at the waste lagoon.
Imagine David Lynch’s bizarre masterpiece Blue Velvet scripted by Edna Buchanan and Carl Hiaasen. It’s a blast.