The Devil Doesn’t Want Me is a humorous noir novella by Eric Beetner, recent recipient of the Stalker Award for Most Criminally Underrated Author (available October 23, 2012).
I’ve never done one of these Fresh Meat things before, and was a bit nervous about it. I mean, giving my opinion when it’s asked for is something new to me. I’m fine when it’s NOT asked for… in fact, I’m in a whole ’nother realm when I give unasked for advice. But after reading Eric Beetner’s new novella, The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, I was certainly glad I got the opportunity. Why?
Because this is an incredibly fun and awesome book, that’s why.
Let me first hip you to the premise. The story is about 47-year-old hitman Lars (we never know his last name and you have to wonder as the book unfolds if that name is really his, too) and what happens when he finally finds the object of a 17-year search for his target, Mitch the Snitch. This story is a road tale that takes us from the flats of the Arizona desert to the vapid emptiness of the Vegas Strip to the hard shell of the streets of Los Angeles. And trust me, this trip is worth every moment.
On the face of it, this a pretty simple story. However, if you dig deeper, you find it’s really about the generation gap. Lars is sent help because the old boss he’s worked for all these years, Nikki Senior, is on his last legs, and his opportunistic spawn, Nikki Junior is angling to take over the family. Junior wants to close the Mitch the Snitch file and then kill off Lars, who he views as old wood, a derelict that’s behind the times. The “help” that Lars is sent is Trent, a young gun with a ton of attitude. He’s got tats. He’s got a nose ring. He thinks he’s cooler than Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Think that Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent hitman movie The Mechanic for the generational friction and you got it. And Beetner really captures that gap, too. Lars loves ’70s rock (in fact, Beetner really nailed me, as I love AC/DC, Motorhead, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and I’m also 47!). He loves his old, late ’60s Mustang. He loves the quiet he’s created for himself out there in the desert where he thinks Mitch the Snitch still lives. Anyway, Trent shows up and thinks that Lars (the guy he’s secretly been sent to off after he gets Mitch) is a dinosaur (an attitude that reinforces the whole generation gap thing). From there, well… the story takes off as only a good story can: with a ton of great scenes and dialog that double back on themselves as the book moves forward to the conclusion.
I just have to say here, again, that I loved Lars and this book. This book is like if you took Lawrence Block’s famous hitman, Keller, and made him the lovechild of Elmore Leonard and Quentin Tarantino. But what really sold it for me was Beetner’s writing. You wanna read an opening that hooks you? Okay, here:
Seventeen years is a long damn time. A long damn time. That’s how long Lars had been on the hunt for Mitchell Kenney.
That’s how you write an opening. It gives you so much, right there. There’s voice there, people. A lot of voice in those words. And that’s really what hooked me so much in this book: Beetner’s voice. It was like reading a great movie script (and this would make a rockin’, kick-ass movie), the pacing is so fast and tight and breezy.
Here’s another example of tight writing, and also of the humor Beetner spreads throughout this book. This is taken from an early scene where Lars and Trent are first working together and they have hated each other on sight from the moment Trent got off the plane. They’re at a taco stand, between running down leads on Mitch the Snitch:
They ate lunch at a taco stand where they could have taken the opportunity to get to know each other better, but neither man felt like chatting. Instead their silence included Lars neglecting to tell Trent that the green salsa was the hottest one.
Here’s another good example of the writing (again from early in the book as I don’t want to give too much away):
Going after Mitch the Snitch wasn’t going to be easy, and Lars told the boss so. Said it might take a long time. When the FBI hides a guy, they intend for him to stay hid. Nikki Senior said, “Take as much as you need.” Twenty-six times before, Lars had fulfilled contracts for the boss. Twenty-six men dead. Nikki Senior could trust Lars with a gun or a secret or the combination lock to his daughter’s underpants. For Lars, letting down Nikki Senior would be worse than letting down his own father. Then again, letting down his dad had been the central preoccupation of his adolescence.
Look, if I’m sounding too over the top with my praise, it’s because it’s been a damn long time since I’ve read a book that I couldn’t put down and wanted to get back to when I did.
And if you need yet one more reason to like this book? Hell, man… Beetner dedicated it to his dearly departed dog, Maybel. “One of the great dogs of our time.”
Get it. Read it. Enjoy the F out of it.
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Robert Lewis grew up under the pier at Venice Beach, California. There, by firelight, he would entertain the stray dogs with weird and wonderful tales. He’s still telling stories, but now he lives in a place with walls, a roof, and cases of red wine. Crime fiction and blues guitar are his things. He blogs over at NeedleCity, and twits sporadically and nonsensically as @robertklewis.
See al posts by Robert Lewis for Criminal Element.