Title: Pain Killers
Author: Jerry Stahl
Publisher: William Morrow
Good But Disappointing - 3 stars - a book review
Manny Rupert is a former cop and sometimes former recovering drug addict. In the opening third of the book we see just how difficult life is for Rupert as we are introduced to his struggles with his ex-wife, drugs, money, and general poor decision making skills. He is "asked" to go undercover at San Quentin as a addiction instructor to determine if one of the inmates is a believed to be dead SS officer from the days of the Holocaust. With nothing to lose (and seemingly nothing to gain), Rupert agrees and is introduced to host of bizarre characters and situations.
I love a good, dark, gritty story as much as anything. PAIN KILLERS certainly falls into that category as all the back stories are revealed of not only Rupert, but also his ex-wife, the inmates, and the correctional facility employees. Unfortunately, I just could not bring myself to love this story. Typically I tear through novels of a similar nature, but the slow pace and seemingly irrelevance of the situations was difficult for me to swallow. I had difficulty continuing to read PAINKILLERS at many times.
I think the biggest setback for PAIN KILLERS is the fact that situations arise out of nowhere, and Rupert is often presented with decisions that border on completely unbelievable (or with no relevance to the story). The plot also moves very slowly (at least in the opening half of the book). Since I have not read the first book with Manny Rupert, PLAINCLOTHES NAKED, this could be part of the problem (although PAIN KILLERS spends ample time recounting things I assume to have happened in the previous book).
PAIN KILLERS suffers from a lack of direction, and while the readers knows exactly what Rupert's mission is, it is difficult to determine where and how he he achieves this goal while reading the story. Obviously, more information comes out that is important to Rupert (and the other characters) that change the motivations and the resolve of the main characters, but the pacing is difficult to stay interested in these things.
Despite these opinions, PAIN KILLERS is most certainly a niche book. If you like dark and gritty books, this should certainly be on your "to read" pile and you might appreciate it more than I did. There are other books I would recommend first, including the Hank Thompson Trilogy by Charlie Huston:
Plants and Books