The Bouncer, a novel by David Gordon
The Mysterious Press, New York, 259 pages
Legend has it that when criminals and others in “the game” would read Elmore Leonard’s novels, they always assumed he was a crook who had done time. They refused to believe it when they found out Elmore was straight as an arrow (outside his alcoholism, of course). How could a guy who’d never done time know so much about doing crimes?
You may wonder the same about David Gordon after reading The Bouncer, the new, very funny novel by the author of the The Serialist. The book’s jacket says David has worked in “film, fashion, publishing and pornography.” I don’t know about the first three fields, but I can vouch for his knowledge of the latter–Gordon obviously knows his way around the louche world of strip clubs and their mobbed-up owners, where much of the book’s action takes place. But how does he know so much about guns, the FBI and CIA, international terrorists, biological weapons, drugs and yoga?
The book’s protagonist, Joe, is unlike any I’ve encountered before—like one of Leonard’s heroes dialed up to 11 (actually the whole book is dialed up to 11, which is I suppose where crime fiction writers have to go in the wake of James Ellroy. And I mean that in a good way). Joe grew up poor, an orphan who got a free-ride scholarship to Harvard before dropping out to join the military. He ends up in the special forces in Afghanistan, and comes back with a nasty case of PSTD and struggling with drug addiction (he avoids drinking, unless he really needs a drink, and only shoots up after an especially tough day), and ends up working in a gentleman’s club. Joe whiles away the tedious hours at the club–in between beating up unruly customers–by reading Dostoyevsky and Kafka. I laughed out loud when one of the strippers, finding Joe reading The Trial, says, “I don’t know, Joe, I’d spend the money on a real lawyer, not do it yourself out of a book.” Despite being willing to join in whatever questionable caper he’s pitched by any of the many low-lifes who frequent the establishment, Joe is a stand-up guy, who won’t kill anybody unless he absolutely has to. Or if they really deserve it.
Other characters, like Gio, the mafia club owner and Joe’s oldest friend, are just as memorable. (a modern-day, “respectable” gangster, Gio lives in the suburbs with his wife, a psychologist who’s into yoga and mediation, and he has a secret…) Then there’s Juno, the teen gang-banger electronics wizard who lives in what’s left of the hood in Brooklyn; Yelena, the sexy Russian assassin who shares Joe’s passion for Dostoyevsky and mayhem; and FBI agent Zamora, who despite herself has a crush on Joe-possibly because he smiled when he shot her, and deep down she could tell he’s a good guy. Not to mention a motley assortment of organized (and disorganized) crime figures, big- and small-time, representing New York City in all of its glorious diversity. Hopefully there will be a sequel, so I can hang out with this bunch of fascinating knuckleheads another day.
Bottom line, I read The Bouncer in less than 24 hours, in two sittings; what praise could be higher than that? If you’re looking for a fun summer read, and you’re a fan of funny crime novels such as those of Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Charles Willeford or Chester Himes, I highly recommend The Bouncer.