Gischler, Victor. Shotgun Opera.

NY: Bantam, 2006.

A few years ago, there began to appear a new variation on the classic hard-boiled noir shoot-‘em-up, heavy on violence (and frequently profanity, because mafia enforcers and vigorish-collectors aren’t especially intellectual in their discourse) and with emphasis on characters who can seldom be called the Good Guys.

Gischler is one of more talented practitioners of this rediscovered art (Gun Monkeys won several awards) and this one will certainly hold your attention.

As soon as he was old enough back in the mid-‘60s, Mike Foley joined his older brother, Dan, as a “problem-solver” for the mob in New York. And they made a good team until a little girl was inadvertently killed in a raid on the competition in Harlem. Mike, unable to deal with what had happened, quit the business and disappeared into the heartland, specifically northern Oklahoma, where he spent the next forty years staying as far away from other people as possible. Cut to the present. Brother Dan finally settled down, had a family, and then died of cancer, leaving only a son, Andrew, who is now a student at Julliard and makes a few bucks helping a couple of his cousins with small-time bad (but heretofore non-violent) stuff. His father always told him, if he ever found himself in serious, life-and-death trouble, to go to his Uncle Mike for help. And now Andrew has seen something he shouldn’t have, his cousins are dead, and he’s on the run.

But Gischler likes to tell his story from both sides, so we also learn about Nikki Enders, a very dangerous young woman who seems to be Laura Crofts’ first cousin, and who makes her living as a freelance assassin. She’s been contracted to tidy up the loose ends where the Foleys are concerned. She has an interesting background herself, and also two younger sisters who are nearly as lethal as she is. But Nikki badly underestimates the situation and tries to subcontract the job so she can take some down-time, . . . and soon Uncle Mike, who seriously doesn’t want to do this stuff anymore, has nevertheless unpacked his old Thompson and is on the road, looking for the people who are threatening him and his family.

The action is very nearly continuous and the author’s way with descriptive passages will have you wincing when you can see what’s coming before the targets can. And don’t think there’s going to be a happily ever after, or even that all the main characters are going to survive. While this sort of high-octane escapism is definitely not to everyone’s taste — it isn’t even a detective story in the sense that Raymond Chandler’s books are — I enjoyed it a great deal. And I have to wonder whether Tarantino or perhaps the Coen Brothers have scouted Gischler.

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