Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Another Excellent Tale from Johnny Shaw

I've been a huge fan of Johnny Shaw's "Fiasco" novels featuring Jimmy Veeder and of his short stories starring Chingon, "The World's Deadliest Mexican," and so of course I was looking forward to his newest book, Floodgate, which has just been released. It's Shaw's most ambitious book yet, darker than his earlier efforts, more outrageous in parts, but also just as funny.

The book is set in the richly imagined Auction City, one of the darkest, dirtiest and most corrupt cities ever to appear in crime fiction, or in probably any other fiction for that matter. The name says it all--everything here has a price. For several generations a number of criminal gangs, the cops being only one among them, have held sway over the city, dividing the spoils and the citizens be damned. A secret group known as Floodgate has kept the peace for years, mediating between the various factions and reminding them to keep their eyes on the prize, namely the profits they all can reap if they don't screw the pooch by fighting each other.

The book begins on a day in 1929, when a huge riot, which became known as the Flood, virtually destroyed the city. But out of the ashes rose a new Auction City which was just as corrupt as the old one but which was usually at peace, thanks to the Floodgate. Fast forward to 1986, when practically the only honest cop in town, Andy Destra, has been framed and booted off the force after beginning an investigation that threatens to expose the corruption at the heart of the police force and, by extension, the city as a whole. Andy was left an orphan at birth and was raised by a woman he calls Champ. Like any normal person in such circumstances, he can't help but wonder about the parents who abandoned him.

Like a lot of Shaw's protagonists, Andy is a bit on the clueless side--a man who is easily buffeted by forces beyond his control and that he only faintly understands. But he is tenacious, and once he has a glimpse of the conspiracy that holds Auction City together, he's not about to give up, no matter the strength of the opposition. 

The book toggles back and forth between that day in 1929 and 1986, and like the layers of an onion, the sordid secrets of Auction City are gradually laid bare. Poor Andy Destra is in mortal danger from the start, and only an alliance with the unlikeliest band of confederates that one can imagine is going to give him any chance of survival.

It's a great story, unlike any other I've read, and the deeper you get into the book the more gripping it becomes until you literally can't put it down. It's also nice to see here a nod to another of my favorite authors, Brace Godfrey. As I suggested above, with this book Shaw has set a new personal standard and really raised expectations with regard to what he might do next. For my own part, I can only say that I hope it won't take him very long. 4.5 stars for me.

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