PLAINCLOTHES NAKED by Jerry Stahl; William Morrow, 2001

A quick look at the back of Plainclothes Naked should lead anyone to think that Jerry Stahl is the greatest thing to happen to humor since the deaths of Lenny Bruce and the best crime writer to see print since Jim Thompson. Authors as interesting as Tobias Wolff, JT LeRoy, and Nick Tosches proclaim his writings to be variously “full of hear,” “brilliant,” and “amazingly beautiful.” The reality of Plainclothes Naked is somewhat different than these accolades lead you to believe. The book is by no means The Great Underground American Novel, a comment on anything in particular, or the career launcher for a writer who's had his various ups and downs. But it is, if nothing else, a very fun read. Stahl's turn toward the Ellroy style crime-novel is a semi-logical progression from his previous work. He uses the same sort of twisted and depraved outlook on life to fuel the absurd adventures of his various characters that informed his earlier work. He does this with a kind of mad scientist ferocity and it is hard to imagine another author who could make a book that centers around a photo of a smiley face tattoo on George W. Bush's nuts work. To pull the whole thing off, Stahl essentially borrows the Elmore Leonard formula for snappy dialogue, convoluted plots that you know are going to work out in the end, point-of-view chapters through multiple characters (each with his/her own peculiar set of neuroses), and no pretensions to make any sort of grand statement about life, humans, or anything else. Stahl does this without Leonard's almost prudish sensibilities (i.e., don't read this book to your family over Thanksgiving dinner) but seems to lack some of Leonard's genius for dialogue and pacing. For all that, it's unlikely you'll put Plainclothes Naked down once you pick it up. The book is, by leaps and bounds, more impressive than his lackluster Perv but perhaps not as scary, funny, or engaging as Permanent Midnight (after all, I'll take real life stories of writing Alf through a drug haze over traditional Gumshoe any day).

-Jason Cons

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