A potboiler by two noted authors written in 1945, long before they were famous, and published now for the first time.
In alternating chapters, Burroughs (then known as William Lee and writing in the persona of Will Dennison) and Kerouac (then bearing the first name John and writing in the persona of Mike Ryko) serve up a noir vision of Manhattan as it might have appeared if Edward Hopper had had only dark pencils at his disposal. Its spirit is more Spillane than Hammett, its opening very much a signal of things to come: “The bars close at 3:00 A.M. on Saturday nights so I got home about 3:45 after eating breakfast at Riker’s on the corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue.” Taking their title from a true incident involving a zoo fire, the authors proceed to deliver a tale of booze-soaked weirdness that culminates in a murder that has some echoes with another real-life event, when proto-Beat Lucien Carr stabbed a suitor to death and was packed off to an asylum. Of the two, Kerouac, then in his early 20s, is the more developed writer, though Burroughs, an absolute beginner, already shows some of the interests and obsessions that will turn up in Naked Lunch and elsewhere, to say nothing of an obviously field-tested understanding of how syringes work (“I let the solution cool, then sucked it up into the hypodermic, fitted on the needle, and started looking around for a high vein on my arm”). For his part, Kerouac recounts wartime experiences in the Merchant Marine, along with notes on the bar scene that would do Bukowski proud. When the manuscript made the rounds back in 1945, it found no publisher, for reasons that will soon become apparent to the reader, and ended up in a filing cabinet. Its publication will (possibly) benefit American literature. More likely it will benefit agents and estates.
More of interest as a literary curio than as a work of art, though shrewd neobopsters will probably want to be seen with copies in hand.