David Gordon shoots and scores again with his latest novel, The Bouncer. After I read his Mystery Girl and The Serialist, I am convinced Gordon is one of the best crime writers I’ve encountered in a long time. His books are hilarious and keep your attention. He knows how to tell a good story, create memorable characters, and engage the reader. And, dammit, he’s already put out a sequel to this book which I’ll have to buy. I’m never going to finish Dodge in Hell or Youngblood Hawke.
For instance, the opening paragraph:
When the drunken football player went berserk and tried to steal a stripper, everyone yelled to get the bouncer. This drunk was huge, a redheaded giant. He lunged for the stage, grabbing and squeezing like a starving caveman at an all-you-can-eat buffet, then went straight for Kimberly, a tall blonde curved like a futurist Italian sculpture. He snatched her right off the stage, tossing her over his shoulder like King Kong. When a waitress protested, he swatted her away like a fly. The bartender, a buffed-up dude who CrossFit like crazy, punched him right in the gut. The giant just kind of blinked, as if he’d been distracted for a second by a passing thought, then creamed the bartender with one blow. Even when his own friends tried to take him down, he sent them flying, drunk out of his mind, screaming, “I don’t wanna get married!” It was a bachelor party gone very wrong.
Anyway, back to the review.
Joe Grody is an ex-special forces soldier who’s endured one too many firefights. He’s left the military and traded in his rifle for a job working as a bouncer at a gentleman’s club in Queens. One night he takes down a huge man and hauls him out to cool on the curb until the assailant sobers up. All in a night’s work. Everything seems normal until the FBI screams into the scene, sirens blazing and badges flashing. It would appear Joe is now in the middle of something bigger than he could ever imagine.
Meanwhile, we get to meet Agent Donna Zamora, who wants to make a name for herself. She’s spent a long time monitoring the club where Joe works. It’s run by a mobster named Gio, whom she wants to bag and claim the glory for herself. However, her coworkers and supervisors have an interest in keeping Gio on the street.
Gio, who presents himself to his wife and kids as an honest businessman, is the local operations director of his crime family. He’s negotiated treaties with other crime lords and doesn’t need a hot-headed federal agent making his life miserable. Furthermore, Gio has a few secrets he doesn’t want to be revealed. He’s vulnerable and knows it. Which is why he needs to get this investigator off his butt and in a hurry.
Joe is hauled off to lock-up during the raid where he meets a 21-year-old Chinese American kid named Derek. This young man runs some gambling and fencing operations for his uncle, but he’s got bigger ambitions. Derek has some things planned which will enrich him, but he needs a driver to help pull off the stunt. He’s seen Joe around and pitches the job to him in the cell. Joe, still down on his luck and ambitions, is very interested.
On the way out, Joe encounters Agent Donna. And it’s mutual attractions at first sight. Can two people from opposite sides of the law find each other’s heart while explosions are going off and bullet fly? This is an old tale, but Gordon finds ways to make it fresh and exciting.
There’s a lot more to this book than I can possibly put into one brief review without spoiling things. To put it in essence, there is something that everyone wants which has the potential to End Civilization As We Know It. It’s the McGuffin that drives the book and keeps the tension high. Gordon is a master at this sort of thing, as anyone who’s read his other novels can tell you.
One of the many observations in The Bouncer:
The apartment was a comfortable mess: an open kitchen as you entered, then a dining and living room with sliding glass doors that opened onto the terrace, beyond which you could hear the waves. The shades were drawn. Bedrooms to each side. The place was crammed with upholstered armchairs, leather couches, a wooden dining table covered in a woven white tablecloth and heaped, like every other surface, with books, Cyrillic newspapers, overflowing ashtrays, and empty teacups. A large samovar sat on a sideboard. A chessboard between two club chairs held a half-fought game. Shelves groaned with books and more stacks of paper. In the midst of it all stood an old Russian man with a fringe of white hair, in linen trousers, a crumpled white shirt, and slippers. A cigarette burned in his mouth.
Most of the book is set in New York City, the author’s stomping ground. Some of it moves upstate, but he doesn’t let condensation get in the way of the plot. This time he doesn’t write about writers and bookstore owners who struggle to find themselves. Gordon’s new protagonists are far from the Mary Sue clones you’d expect from a writing instructor.
The novel rolls with action. There are multiple shoot-outs that go out of control and intrigue. One of the major confrontations takes place at a gun show. In a lesser writer’s hands, this could turn into the worst kind of jingoism or snobbery imaginable, but Gordon makes the scene, and its resolution, work. Once again, we get to see a master storyteller at work.
If you want to read a crime novel that’s funny, exciting and full of Gothamite color, this is the book for you. I can’t praise this novel enough, or, for that matter, the other two Gordon wrote. In an age where action novels are passé, it’s nice to see someone who can keep it real.