David Bowker, Author . St. Martin's Griffin $12.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-312-32825-2

Rawhead, the lethal antihero of this gruesome underworld thriller, is both a "fast, businesslike and thoroughly unpleasant" practitioner of "violence as God intended" and a demonic "elemental power" like a volcano, a lightning bolt and a "biblical plague." Part smoothly efficient hit man, part Frankenstein monster, part Heathcliff, Rawhead adds a note of maniacal mayhem ("[he] saw a man capering around in circles, blood fountaining from his cranium") while exerting a grim magnetism over "the Spirit of Darkness," an equally lethal lady assassin (and "ancient, bloodthirsty goddess" in her own right) hired by mob bosses to kill him. Bowker (The Death You Deserve ) transplants the basics of L.A. noir—complete with satirical subplot about a desperate writer corrupted by hack television producers—to the usual squalor and debauchery of gangland Manchester, England, and adds a shot of rancid Victorian romance, culminating in a romantic tryst in a gloomy vicarage, "consummated... on a bed of human carrion." He highlights his punchy, deadpan prose with streaks of purple ("[b]efore you knew it, you were bleeding. Then you were pleading. Then you were dead") while keeping up a parade of piquant scumbags and well-paced, cringe-inducing violence. If the varying tones of gritty crime procedural, black comedy and gothic grand guignol sometimes clash, readers (those with strong stomachs, anyway) will be having too much fun to care. Agent, Barbara Zitwer. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 06/14/2004
Release date: 08/01/2004
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-1-4668-3200-8
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