An over-the-top Grande Guignol thriller that breaks every rule of fine literature without ever once descending to the lowest denominator. These pages hurt.
Phineas Poe has no luck: or, he has luck, it’s just all terrible. Previously put through the meat-grinder by Baer (Penny Dreadful, 2000), Poe is a onetime cop whose days of law enforcement are now long over. A broken-down drunk on the ragged fringe of society, he is looking for his ex, Jude, whom he fell in love with after she stole his kidney (in Kiss Me Judas, 1998); they did odd jobs in Mexico together before one of their clients—a sick freak who paid them to hack off his hand and is now a US senator—sends a goon squad to off them. Jude and Poe escape alive, Poe with a concussion and Jude raped: she takes off soon afterward to get revenge. A random alleyway murder in San Francisco puts Poe back in contact with her, and soon the two are taking part in the fantasy of another sick freak (the book is just lousy with them, thankfully) that involves making a snuff film as a complex means of getting revenge on their attackers. Baer gets away with his seemingly ludicrous premise for the simple reason that he writes like an addict continually rediscovering the dark, bloody depths and boozy, coke-jangled heights the language can bring readers to. While his Poe is a perfect neo-noir protagonist—tough but not too bright, with some of the worst karma ever—the real star here is Jude, a sexy black-widow type who was once a trained assassin but is still afraid of spiders and who “[does] everything with the same delirious gum-chewing mania.” Baer’s sarcasm and occasional (and believable) flashes of humanity keep the depraved goings-on from descending to the cold sadism of a Jack Womack or Burroughs.
Bruising stuff screeching on the knife-edge of acceptability.