The way Stahl defines his heroine Kitty — long white dress, straw hat, pink ribbons, RayBans, foul mouth — will serve as a pattern that we'll see later in his novels, the complicit and solicitous minx. Tina (Manny Rupert's lady in Painkillers) is frisky and funny, but her mind piles up shades of darkness (a bulimic past, working as a Bible call-girl).
There are a few comparisons of Tina with Kitty from Permanent Midnight: "We don't even have sex. He's too busy reading the fucking Bible. He calls me Jezebel."
In Painkillers (2010), Stahl delivers his sharp prose again ("If you’re a junkie, obliteration is your job," says his protagonist ex-cop Manny Rupert) throughout a fictitious Schwarzmarkt, featuring some real historic figures like the Nazi Dr. Josef Rudolf Mengele, a race scientist and high ranker in the SS, who used inmates for human experimentation at Auschwitz. The Teutonic supremacists, Jewish humor, and Christian porn websites are entwined in a neo-noir plot reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. Manny Rupert infiltrates in San Quentin prison to investigate a recluse who claims to be the Angel of Death, war criminal Josef Mengele.
Although his objective is unmasking Mengele's identity and his current practices in prison, he can only think of Tina, who's left him and operates as an Internet escort for a fanatic Christian group. It's not a small treat Stahl is capable of dredging up corrosive humor navigating infernal Third Reich crimes (that Hitler was vegetarian, avoided coffee and wanted to ban Coca-Cola in Germany didn't sit well with America's governors), Americans' fixation with television prison programs (Prison Nation, Lockup), pharmaceutical corporations, unorthodox sexual obsessions, religious fetishes, etc.
Tina's character is a renewed femme fatale figure ("She’d Dranoed his Lucky Charms. I was the homicide detective. We were in a small town outside Pittsburgh. I threw the tainted cereal in the garbage disposal before the evidence techs showed up. They called it an accident. It was not what Hollywood would call a 'meet cute'"). Looking at her, Manny is thinking of sex with a praying mantis: "Hey, man, did you hear about that guy, got his head bit off while he was fucking? They knew. But they climbed on anyway. That’s what it means to fiend for something. ... You need it more than you care that it’s going to kill you... Don’t tell me you’re thinking about praying mantises,” Tina guesses. "Being known was an uncomfortable aphrodisiac," he admits. "I got struck sentimental. The first time we fucked, you said, ‘Try to make me happy but don’t leave marks.’ I didn’t know it was from a movie. I’ll Kiss You When I’m Dead. A cult classic."