cover image THE PISTOL POETS


Victor Gischler, . . Delacorte, $22.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33724-3

With this madcap sophomore outing, after 2001's Edgar-nominated Gun Monkeys , Gischler challenges Kinky Friedman for top slot in the zany noir subgenre of mystery fiction—and for sheer mayhem and body count momentum, Gischler may triumph. Itinerant poetry teacher Jay Morgan is one semester into a short-term contract as a visiting professor at Eastern Oklahoma University when he wakes up with that time-honored mystery cliché, a dead girl in his bed. Before he can react—before, actually, he realizes she's dead—he's called into the office of the dean and handed the unenviable assignment of editing the poetry of crusty old Fred Jones, a major donor to the campus literary magazine. For Morgan, who loathes amateur poets, this is pretty bad news. Jones is just as dismayed with his new editor's appearance ("Is this guy on the dope? Don't saddle me with no dopehead"). But Jones has surprising skills: he quickly takes care of Morgan's corpse problem and, you guessed it, he turns out to be one hell of a poet. Besides the dead girl, there are a number of other comic plot threads: a street thug with a bag of stolen dope assumes the identity of one of his victims and attends the university as a poetry graduate student; an undergrad reporter writing a story on Morgan quickly drags him into bed; and the bad guy owner of the stolen dope rolls into town bent on revenge. Gischler deftly weaves together these elements and more and comes up with plenty of laughs (and an equal number of groaners), all imbedded within a small war's worth of bullets and blood. This is a far-fetched but fast and viciously enjoyable read. (Feb. 3)

Forecast: Connoisseurs of wacky fiction will enjoy both of Gischler's novels, and while this professor of creative writing at Rogers State University in Oklahoma probably doesn't front a band like the irrepressible Friedman, he's got a newcomer's vigor that some o f the Kinkster's later novels have lacked .