Manic private eye Manny Rupert (Plainclothes Naked, 2001) darts across a fetid landscape after the infamous Dr. Mengele, who may be alive and well in San Quentin.
In the opening scene, Harry Zell breaks into Rupert’s house, cold cocks him (pretty impressive for a 72-year-old with a walker), then revives him to make a pitch. Zell says a San Quentin inmate claims he’s Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed horrifying experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz. He offers Rupert ten grand to see if the old geezer really is Mengele. Threatened with foreclosure, the ex-drug addict with two ex-wives takes the gig. He’ll pose as a drug-rehab therapist and observe Mengele in group sessions. What follows may not be everyone’s cup of bilge water, as Stahl (Love Without, 2007, etc.) lays out—and lays on—the execrable details of life in the Big House. Soon after Rupert checks in, he spots second ex-wife Tina having a conjugal visit with a prisoner. Tina, who finished off her first husband by lacing his Lucky Charms with broken glass and Drano, confides that she’s also onsite at Zell’s behest, leaving Rupert to ponder Zell’s motives for uncovering Mengele. Does he want the Nazi killed in revenge? Or do American pharmaceutical companies, who may have used Mengele’s methods to experiment on detainees in Abu Ghraib, want to silence the Doctor of Death? In wild sessions with a demented crew of would-be ex-addicts, Rupert hears the cagey man who may be Mengele suggest that he might be experimenting on humans at San Quentin. The final solution is at once pedestrian and profound.
Stahl fires off great, if rude, one-liners while raising disturbing questions. But he lets the inmates hijack the narrative until the tiresome ranting on all sides upstages the case.