One thing is for certain- this book gives El Cajon, California one heck of a reputation and one no city would want. Another thing, for certain- people don’t do well when addicted to Vicodin. Opiate addiction is very topical. One can only hope the medics and pharma people get a conscience before too many more people have their lives torn apart by addictive prescription drugs. But what the heck has that got to do with this book. Well, apart from the fact that Haim, the first-person narrator, is still somehow alive and even gets a few things right, there is a serious warning here. We see a few heroic deeds, but not from an actor one would ever wish to emulate. He is the very antithesis of John, Die Hard, McClane. A film about Haim Baker would not create quite the same sort of wannabe buzz.
Before you take a first overdose on opiate-based medicines, read this book. However, don’t read this book if you are planning a trip to San Diego County, unless you are open to having your mind changed.
This is a book which quickly becomes hard to put down, but not necessarily because you are enjoying it. Frustration with the first person, no hoper is going to drive you to distraction. Like the effect of the dumb principle in the high-tension film drama, one can’t believe the stupidity for walking into trouble, while not being quite irritated enough to switch channels. Actually, that is probably not so different to having a mild addiction to Vicodin.
This book is extremely violent and at times exceedingly crude. Urine and blood seem to be constantly pouring in equal and often mixed volumes. And this book gets the near fatal stages of opioid addiction about right- except that PI Haim Baker somehow still manages to function, and even kill the right bad people. The book also highlights the terrible world of people trafficking, focussed here on girls bashed and drugged into the sex industry. Actually, that part of the book is particularly sickening. Sickening for the sane and those merely into substance rather than people abuse, that is! But, just as we know that nearly every neighbourhood has an addict at deaths door, we also know that not all our children are safe wheresoever we live. I choose to see a second serious message from Shapiro. That even in places with a veneer of respectability such abuses can be hidden.
The writing is fast paced, and generally of a good quality. However, the grammar is far from conventional. For example, the disappearance of the period, the comma, is used to convey rapid and often chaotic and stressed, stream of consciousness, thought. Shapiro writes well enough to usually pull this off. However, one would want to load up with plenty of oxygen before reading some passages aloud. Even if there was pause for breath, one would have to check the audience first. Haim isn’t exactly shy about some excruciatingly detailed body malfunctions.
Haim is like the most down-beaten, unprepossessing, suicidally inclined private eye one has ever read about, and then some. If it wasn’t for the kindness buried in his soul and for the reported damage in his personal life which has helped draw him low, many might jettison the read unfinished. That would be a pity. But to sustain any credibility, either Haim dies next time out, or breaks his addiction.
Yes, the book deserves five somethings, though five pain killing white tablets may be more appropriate that five yellow stars. But for those that eagerly consume thrillers in which the least bad guy eventually wins this is a good fix. I would absolutely recommend this book for those that like no-holes plugged entertainment. The pictures Shapiro paints look disgustingly real to this reader.