This novel, originally printed in the pages of Playboy magazine, is a modern crime novel. The author, Denis Johnson, previously won the National Book Award with Tree of Smoke (apparently, a Western).
The main character is Jimmy Luntz, who performs in a barbershop chorus, is addicted to gambling, and owes money to the mob. Gambol is the enforcer sent to deal with Jimmy. He works for Juarez, who is sort of like a bounty hunter for the mob, and does other illegal activities on the side (and who really isn't Mexican). Juarez's other associate is The Tall Man, who handles banks and computers, and has a face so disfigured that nobody looks at him. All of these guys have their roots in Alhambra, California - which is a town, not a prison - which is also where Sol (don't call him Sally) and Jay used to be from, before they went into hiding.
Gambol picks up Jimmy and takes him to the middle of nowhere - to be precise, the Feather River area in the mountains of California - but Jimmy escapes, managing to accidentally shoot Gambol in the leg (but is too squeamish to kill him).
Now on the run, Jimmy makes the acquaintance of Anita, a stunningly beautiful Native American woman who has been framed in the theft of 2.3 million dollars - by her husband, and her former boss (a judge). She's lost everything but her sports car, is determined to get revenge... and likes to drink a lot.
Can Jimmy escape the mob? Will Anita get her revenge? Will Jimmy help Anita? Who will rescue Gambol from the woods? Will Sol and Jay - who happen to be hiding out on the Feather River - get involved?
It's a quick read, lots of good dialogue, the characters are complex, the tale is told with dry humor, and there are a fair number of twists and surprises. Jimmy is not exactly a hero (more of a loser just trying to survive), everyone else is pretty much some flavor of bad, and there's not exactly a happy ending...
This novel includes descriptive violence and some sex, so definitely not for younger readers (and some older ones). (The mobsters can also be sadistic...)
Wargamers will find the characters interesting enough to borrow for their own crime-based campaigns. While there is fighting involved, none is of the type that easily translates to the tabletop; the plot would also be difficult to convert into a gaming campaign.
Bottom line: It's a good, solid read if you like the subject matter.
Note that the book has several different editions with completely different covers. The hardback version I have has a paper cover with "bullet holes" over color art of Jimmy Luntz (front cover) and Anita (back cover).
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .