Praise for The Big Bitch
BY DAVIDPRESTIDGE ⋅ JULY 18, 2015 ⋅ POST A COMMENT
FILED UNDER CALIFORNIA, HARDBOILED, JOHN PATRICK LANG, MURDER, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, SAN FRANCISCO, THE BIG BITCH
[The Big Bitch] Written by John Patrick Lang — So, what is left of Jackson ‘Doc’ Holiday’s world, now that his multi-million dollar fraud scheme has collapsed around his ears? Well, there’s the Armani suits, Gucci loafers and handmade shirts, for starters. A total pariah in the legitimate financial world, what does he do? He becomes a San Francisco PI, of course!
The action starts with a series of frantic voicemails to Holiday from his buddy, a semi-alcoholic Mexican priest.When the priest does show, he’s dead in the seat of his car outside Holiday’s East Bay home, leaving behind a personal story full of holes and a reputation for being able to come up with huge sums of cash for parish projects. With a hard-nosed cop, Hobbs, breathing down his neck, Holiday crosses paths with a rich but deadly drug baron, a vodka and amphetamine swilling nut who is just one tweak away from perfecting an engine that will run on seawater, and one of the most sensational erotic femmes fatales I have read about in years.
In amongst it all, Holiday is reassuringly human. He is useless with a gun, so-so with his fists, full of financial savvy and a sucker for a pretty face, particularly when it adorns a voluptuous body. Just when he thinks he has figured out all the angles, however, the rug is pulled spectacularly from under his feet.
The hardboiled, wisecracking PI may not be the biggest cliché in crime fiction anymore. That accolade is reserved for the maverick, misanthropic police detective who falls foul of their boss, but still solves the crime. But how does Lang’s West Cost PI shape up against the legends of the genre? No-one is ever going to be as poetic as Marlowe, or a wise-ass and tough as Spenser, but Holiday has certainly made an impressive debut. The dialogue crackles, the humour is black, and the bad guys are suitably dissolute. One-liners fly off the page like sparks from a welding torch.
Holiday begins one chapter thus: “I don’t wear a necktie much anymore, only when I am having lunch with an international arms dealer or attending the opening night of a new production of a feminist play.”
The brutal case-cracking cop, Hobbs, also cracks a good gag: “…as soon as the Oakland PD organises a séance we will be questioning him.”
“Séance? Handsome Jack is dead?”
“Yeah, ” said Hobbs, “and the two slugs in his left temple pretty much rule out natural causes.”
Weak points? Maybe just a couple. It would be better to know that Holiday has narrowly escaped a custodial sentence for a massive financial scam involving banks and mortgages. When Lang set out to explain the caper in detail, it’s far too complex to be even vaguely interesting. I just had to ride along until we returned to the action.
A fellow author has described the writing as ‘Chandlerian’, which is one hell of a description to live up to. With the labyrinthine plot, and the way in which no-one is really who they seem to be, The Big Bitch is a good effort. However, even the greatest ever master of plot twists would stir uneasily in his San Diego grave at the big reveal in the last few pages of this book.
Neither of these quibbles should prevent anyone from enjoying this book hugely, and racing through it at a break-neck pace. I suspect I am not the only member of the Jackson Holiday Appreciation Society, and I look forward to his next appearance.
Today I welcome my friend John Patrick Lang. John Patrick Lang is the creator of The Jackson “Doc” Holiday series published by Coffeetownpress. His first novel The Big Bitch is being released August 1, 2015 and the second in the series A Hot Shot for Moochie will be released in the spring of 2016.
John Patrick Lang: A Noir Perspective
A telling result of spending one’s formative years as a lit major is that you end up revering so-called “high art” and looking down your nose at popular culture. Until approximately twenty five years ago, I had never read a mystery, a western, any sci-fi or (please!) a romance. My idea of appropriate reading material was The Parable of the Grand Inquisitor, The Iceman Cometh, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, The Plague and anything and everything by Faulkner and Bellow. My girlfriend at the time gave me a copy of The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler, and I recall asking her what could possibly motivate me to read “such stuff.” She said that if I did, perhaps I wouldn’t be such a snob. All I knew about Raymond Chandler was what an American Lit professor of mine had said: “Raymond Chandler is trash. But he’s good trash.”
Like anyone who enjoys good prose it was hard for me not to be impressed. Quickly I fell under the spell of Chandler, and soon I gave up the classics and started an inclusive if haphazard study of hardboiled/noir crime fiction. In the intervening years, I have read and studied about four dozen authors from Carroll John Daly to James Sallis. They have been almost all male and with the exception of Jean-Claude Izzo, William McIlvanney and Ken Bruen, all American. I also began a study of the top ten or twelve critics and authorities on hardboiled/noir finally deciding that my two favorite books in this field were Which Way Did He Go? by Edward Margolies (1982) and The American Roman Noir by William Marling (1995).
Along the way of my haphazard studies, the author of two of my favorite novels, They Shoot Horses Don’t They and Kiss Tomorrow Good-bye, Horace McCoy, became one of my favorite authors, While Chandler was a darling of the English literati of the fifties, McCoy was championed by the French intellectuals of the 40s. He was admired by Gide, Malraux, and Sartre, and in fact, Simone de Beauvoir called They Shoot Horses Don’t They “The first American existential novel.” While it’s hard not to be struck by the ability of the French for overstatement these two novels are both emblematic of the Black Mask school. So it was bothersome to me when at Bouchercon some years ago I attended a panel discussion on the crime novel as literature. There were four people on the panel: two lit professors, a novelist who had published twenty five novels, and a gentleman who had been an editor of Argosy, Manhunter and what I refer to as “the barbershop magazines of my youth.” When I sought the panel’s opinion on McCoy neither the professors nor the novelist knew who he was. The editor spoke up, “Horace McCoy. Now there was a good writer.” When I was half way through my first draft of The Big Bitch, I hired an independent editor, Ralph Scott, who helped me immensely. After I found a publisher and the novel was complete I sent him an advanced reading copy. Ralph called and said, “This is great, John, you are going to be known as the new Horace McCoy.” I said, “By whom, Ralph? Nobody knows who the old Horace McCoy is.”
To paraphrase Prufrock, “I am not Horace McCoy nor was meant to be.” When my publisher asked me for a blurb about why I chose the form I did for The Big Bitch for our press release I wrote: “I was attracted to the noir genre because of its capacity to convey social and cultural perceptions, indict the false values of the American Dream, create existential allegory, and ultimately turn pulp into parable.” When I wrote that I certainly had McCoy and a number of Black Mask writers in mind. The writers who were the pioneers who built the pillars and the paradigms upon which the hardboiled novel rests today. As for today, how do I feel about Raymond Chandler? Despite his treatment of plot as an annoying afterthought I think he is as much a genius as his masters: Fitzgerald and Flaubert. I believe he casts the longest shadow of any crime writer in America or in the world and still is a gateway writer for the reader to discover a great idiom of expression. An idiom where for me the line between high art and popular culture has become blurred, and where if I am still a snob I have become a different type of snob.
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John Patrick Lang.The Big Bitch Coffeetown (coffeetownpress.com), $15.95 trade paper (324p) ISBN 978-1-60381-303-7
Reviewed on: 06/15/2015
Release date: 08/01/2015
At the start of Lang’s clever, surprise-filled first novel and series opener, PI Jackson Holiday, formerly the president of a mortgage bank “that went tits up,” spots the car of Fr. Jesus Cortez, a drinking buddy of his, parked in the driveway of the detective’s rented bungalow in the unfashionable Berkeley, Calif., flatlands. Inside the car Cortez is dead, shot twice in the temple. Capt. Horace Hobbs of the Berkeley PD, a legend in police circles for always closing a case, asks Holiday some tough questions. What was a suitcase containing about $200,000 in cash doing in the priest’s car? Hobbs quips, “Think this is the parish’s Tuesday night bingo receipts?” In a wide-ranging search for answers that takes Holiday to Portland, Ore., and later to San Diego, he learns much about Cortez’s complex history, which, according to one character, sounds just like one of Raymond Chandler’s “implausible, impossibly twisted plots.” Satisfied readers will agree. (Aug.) Publishers Weekly
":Mr. Lang’s creation is a world wherein greed, amorality, and devious intentions cut across classes and vocations, written in an exquisite vulgate that oozes through the pages.
Will Fulton, author, A simple technique to eliminate ethylene emissions from biochar amendment in agriculture
Destiny Brown rated it 5 of 5 stars
BOOK ADDICT Linda Strong
The book is well-written, especially for a debut novel. The characters are well-defined and the reader won't forget them easily. I have learned more about dishonest banking practices than I ever thought I would. This is first in a series and I liked Doc well enough to take another dip into his adventures.
“A wild East Bay mystery that doesn’t just show us the underbelly of the region, but the vitality of the diverse population, all through the eyes of a darkly whimsical sleuth.”
—Nick Mamatas, author of Love Is The Law
“John Patrick Lang’s highly entertaining first book, The Big Bitch, is a tale of murder, kidnapping, even a
mutilation, set in the East Bay. It is told in gritty turgid prose with the brutal immediacy of the first person
point of view, but with a generous leavening of humor, especially the Chandlerian similes (“I’ll beat on
you like a rented mule.”) As with most effective crime fiction, things are not at all what they seem. We hope to see much more Doc Holiday.”
—Armand Croft, author of The Andrew MacCrimmon novels
“The Big Bitch is a very, very good read with the dialogue and description of an old school hard-boiled novel. Some characters could have walked in from the world of Joseph Wambaugh and some in from the world of Elmore Leonard but they all walk off the page. I haven’t encountered a character as sophisticated, smart, savvy and with the skill for skullduggery like Doc Holiday for twenty years. In other words, not since Ross Thomas died.”
—Eric Mortensen, poet and author of Green Beret Blues
Except from The Big Bitch
An early recording of Willie Nelson singing his classic “Nightlife” played on the jukebox as Mary said, “Well, look at you now, just another loser from the boulevard of broken dreams and just another swinging dick in John and Mary’s Saloon. What are you drinking, Swinging Dick?”
“I’ll have a Bud in a bottle and a double rye in one of your cleaner dirty fruit jars.”
After Mary brought his drinks she moved to the other end of the bar. I asked Hobbs if this visit was official.
“Why?” he asked without looking up from his drink. “You got something you want to tell
me, off the record?”
“I spent five hours with you and Manners last night. Told you everything I know. At least
“Maybe you left something out.”
I let that pass.
He looked up from his drink and caught my eye in the mirror. “Are you sure, Doc?”
“Like I said last night: nobody calls me ‘Doc’ anymore.”
“Let’s review our interview from last night and my subsequent research. Your legal given name is Jackson Burke Holiday, AKA ‘Doc Holiday.’ White male Caucasian, age thirty-nine, six feet, one eighty-five, blue on brown. No distinguishing marks or characteristics. No misdemeanor or felony convictions of any kind.” He swallowed the rest of his rye and signaled for another round. “But three years ago a federal grand jury in Portland, Oregon, delivered multi-count indictments against you for your role as president of a mortgage bank that went tits up. Mortgage fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to violate the Bank Secrecy Act, et cetera. Now, either you were too smart, or had too good a piece of legal talent, because the indictments all got kicked back, thrown out of court. Case never even went to trial. You walked.”
“Maybe I wasn’t culpable.”
Hobbs looked away from the mirror and directly at me for a moment. He said, “Yeah,
maybe you weren’t culpable. There’s always that, Doc. Anyway, you walked. You walked but you were through in the money game. So you were blackballed from banking and you went to team up with your dad and his private investigation firm in Portland. Approximately a year and a half ago you moved here to the Bay Area and set up your own business specializing in white-collar crime. Your clients are banks, mortgage banks, and insurance companies. You specialize in insurance fraud, bank fraud, and what you evidently have some hands-on expertise in, mortgage fraud. You make a living, you don’t get rich … not so as anyone can tell. On the personal side, two years ago your dad died of an accidental gunshot wound—or he ate his gun, depending on who you talk to. Your mother died when you were a child. That leaves you with no parents, no siblings, no spouse, no live-in girlfriend and no family except a great aunt somewhere in Kentucky who you haven’t seen for twenty years. How’d I do?”