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Book Review: Bust by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr

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A comic and violent noir about Idiots Doing Bad, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr’s Bust (Hard Case Crime) centers on an old standby — cheating spouse hires a hitman to do away with his nagging wife — and invests it with enough dark twists to keep things interesting. Our central blood simpleton, Max Fisher, is a wonderful self-deceiving grotesque: a middle-aged Internet businessman who thinks he’s both smarter and classier than he actually is. “An overgrown 13-year-old,” as his top-heavy mistress Angela quickly pegs him, Max hires a psychotic Irish assassin going by the name of Popeye to kill his bipolar wife.

Max doesn’t realize that Popeye and Angela are lovers, but that’s only the start of the entanglements facing our anti-hero once the deed is done. In addition to his nagging spouse, an innocent family member also gets whacked; a wheelchair-bound blackmailer takes some snaps of Max and Angela in bed together; an ambitious cop gets too close to the hair-trigger Popeye. Much bloody mayhem ensues, capped by a sequence where a character unsuccessfully tries to dispose of a body in a bathtub, using five containers of Drano.

There’s not a sympathetic figure to be had in this nasty, leanly written little pulp — and that’s part of the point. Bruen and Staff don’t even neatly tie up every character’s story: they leaving some twisting in the wind, making it clear that these dopes haven’t learned a thing from their violent mishaps. The book’s broad punning title, Bust, turns out to have nothing to do with anybody getting arrested, but instead plays on Max’s arrested obsession with big breasts and the inevitable destination of his business. A very moderne American story, in other words — and a funny bloody one to boot.

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.