In a style similar to Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey, Stahl takes us on a roller coaster ride into San Quentin prison with ex cop Manny Rubert where he is working uncover to prove that one of the prisoners is indeed Josef Mengele, the supposed dead Nazi Angel of Death.
A recovering polydrug addict, Manny (who is also Jewish) is pretending to lead a drug addiction recovery group that includes Mengele. Just why was he hired for this operation, and what do those in charge actually want him to do with the proof that Mengele lives? And what will they actually do with Mengele? Bring him to trial? Kill him in prison? What does Mengele deserve once he's revealed as the monster of the Holocaust? Was he a brilliant scientist or an evil instrument of death?
These questions and the ensuing encounters with a score of bizarre characters take the reader on a trip through the past and into the present with a resounding jolt. The revelations of what Mengele did in the death camps are not particularly new, but the excuses and reasoning that he offers to his audience on a hair raising van excursion, are both shocking and repellant.
I have never read a book quite like this and found it difficult to write a review of it. I can't honestly say I "liked" it, but wow, what an incredible tale this author weaves. The motley crew of associates and characters in the novel look like a circus freak show. The chapter titles read like a sociopathic menu - nothing is left untouched from drugs, sex and torture to animal -- human organ transplants and big pharma conspiracies. Each page brought a new astonishment - what imagination and what a deviant mind this ingeniously demented author has! The style made me zip through the pages, turning them to see what in the world would be offered up for my digestion on the next one.
It was quite a book - took me from laugh out loud to the brink of nausea.
If you like to step out of your comfort zone and be transported into the strangest prison book you've ever read - take a chance. I guarantee you'll spend most of your reading time with your mouth hanging open and your brain forming the word -- WHAT!?!?!?!?
I want to like Pain Killers, I really do. Jerry Stahl's style is dark, sharp, caustic and amusing and in Pain Killers he flashes some moments of brilliance. Unfortunately those high moments are eclipsed by a near fetish obsession with the politics of the Holocaust and most specifically Josef Mengele.
With a solid set up, extraordinarily strong main character and pitch perfect first act Pain Killers seems like it could be an absolute break out book. The book takes an extreme left turn about mid way through that completely derails the initial momentum and narrative. Stahl seemed to have a choice, either follow the arch of Manny Rupert or go for Mengele. He chose the latter and the final act of the book is so absurd and ridiculous that it decimates everything before it.
Stahl's writing peaks early on with descriptions that leap off the page, but as the book goes on he loses touch with the world he's created in order to revisit the theme of the politics of the Holocaust and how maybe human experiments aren't such a 'bad' thing. To most this theme will be distasteful enough to completely skip this book, I found it pretty hard to stomach. The real audience for this book are Stahl fans, perhaps people who've already read Plainclothes Naked, otherwise readers looking for something edgy would do much better with Chuck Palahniuk or Bret Easton Ellis.
on April 10, 2015
The reason I bought this book in the first place, and actually read it, is because of a book by Lydia Lunch, "Will Work for Drugs". (see Amazon review: "This was the first book by Lydia Lunch that I've read, and I will definitely read more! It was fast-paced, flirty, sexual, urban, modern, rebellious and sacrilegious all at the same time. As good as it was, as provocative in a poetic style, the interviews she published in the last part was worth reading the entire book just to get to the end, read the interviews and find the list of new books from writers who are new to me! I will absolutely be reading those books.)
Lunch did an interview with Jerry Stahl that was incredibly great. So I bought like, four of his books just based on her interview. "Pain Killers" is the first one I read; I'll probably read the others just because I paid money for them, but I'm not expecting too much. The point is, I didn't really care for at least one-third of "Killers". The first part, literally Part One, was OK, interesting, kept me coming back for more of the same, hoping for I-don't-know-what and settling for less than that.
Part Two was irrelevant and unnecessary; I barley finished it with any enthusiasm left for life itself. I closed the last page of the book wondering "what the hell was that?" Why had I wasted so much of my time reading this book? Was it really wasted, or did I transform space and time? What was the point of reading it? None, obviously: it was an exercise in pure-reading for the sake of reading with my eyes moving across a page, turning those pages one after the other, carrying the book from front room to bedroom until I was done with it and could slide it in a book shelf between two other books because all three are the same height and they match-up!
I can't recommend this book with any seriousness; but it gave me something to do as I checked my mobile phone for emails and text messages.
on November 1, 2013
This book is one to make you laugh aloud in the morning (not easy for me) but it quickly moves into fantasyland, and a gory one at that. The plot begins with unbelievable and then goes south. If you like slapstick you'll like it. I don't mind some suspension of disbelief but this reads as though the author himself wasn't sure what would happen on the next page. I give it three stars because the author is genuinely funny, but he needs some discipline in the plot department. I may give one of his other books a sample read but I don't think our relationship will work out.
on October 14, 2013
I made it to chapter two before I just gave up. I USUALLY try to stay with a story hoping it will get better but this book was so crass and diturbing. I got this book for free and it was not worth it. I will not read this author again.plan
on May 26, 2016
Super gonzo. This is the first book I have read by this author, and I will definitely be reading more of his writing. If you like detective novels, but not the kind with recipes for cookies made by a cat, you may like this. But if you like Hunter Thompson, Quentin Tarantino, and that ilk, and detective novels, just read this. I was too cheap to buy this on my kindle so I purchased a hard back. Now I know I like Stahl's work I am willing to pay more for it. I really laughed out loud a lot reading this. I added many quotes from the book to my graffiti covered bathroom, most books don't earn more than one.
on November 19, 2013
I am half way through this so my rating may change. A bumbling drug addict and excop is searching to find a possible Dr. Mengle of Hitlers past ( did I mentions he's also Jewish) Quite a story thus far!
I'm re-writing because I've decided that my first review wasn't exactly clear:
This is probably not a book that I would have selected on my own - having hated the movie "Permanent Midnight." In the end it was an enjoyable read - if not a bit preposterous.
The Good Guy - Manny Rupert: an Ex-cop, on again off again junkie with a bad liver, who married a woman he met after she killed her husband and he responded to the police call. He's down on his luck, and not doing himself much good - then a strange old Jewish man shows up in his house, beats him with a walker and hires him to go undercover in San Quentin
The Good Girl - Manny's ex-wife, soon to be ex-ex-wife he hopes, is a neurotic bulimic on again off again junkie/prostitute/opportunist. Her morality is questionable but somewhere under all that sex and junk - there's a heart of gold (at least we're told)
The Bad Guys - Oh there are so many of them, but to keep from giving too much away I'll only list our target, the 90 year old blond German man in San Quentin who swears that he's Dr. Joseph Mengele (Nazi Death Camp Doctor at Auschwitz).
So, crazy Jewish man with walker hires Rupert to go undercover as a drug councilor at San Quentin to determine if the crazy old German actually IS Mengele. Things go bad quickly as Rupert's ex-wife shows up with an Aryan Brotherhood leader who also happens to be Jewish. The people on Rupert's side might actually be more dangerous then the convicts.
The writing is verbally simplistic, a lot of people rant and rave about how grotesque this is - but as a horror fan, I've got to say - it's not that bad. Most of the disgusting parts are simply people recounting what Mengele had done - which IS gross, but it's not extremely explicit in that respect. There is a lot of sex, drugs, racial slurs, anti-government garbage, and a whole lot of the German guy arguing about the good he did in the death camps - like slaughtering babies to cure cancer... that part gets old fast.
To be honest, this isn't the best or worse book I've read. The characters are all fairly despicable in one way or another and the plot only holds together loosely. At times you will find yourself shaking your head trying to figure out just how you're supposed to buy all of what's being sold to you here. If you are looking for something comparable - try Tim Dorsey- ADHD writing, spastic plot, and a lot of material to make your average reader cringe.
Rated R - Do not hand to the kiddies.
I'm a little late reviewing this book, but I thought I'd drop my two cents in the mix. This is my first experience with any of Jerry Stahl's work, and I have to say it's probably going to be my last.
Pain Killers starts out interesting and readable, albeit twisted and sadistic. As the book goes along, it gets more absurd and in less of a good way. In that respect, the book loses it's "charm." I was able to finish it, but in the end it was forgettable for its over-the-top antics with a lack of good wit to match. Not my cup of tea.
There's a quote from the mighty Anthony Bourdain on the cover of my review copy of Pain Killers, Jerry Stahl's latest novel, that says: "Jerry Stahl should either get the Pulitzer Prize or be shot down in the street like a dog." I'd suggest that Stahl hope for a third option, because he's certainly not going to win the Pulitzer with this effort (and frankly, were I Bourdain, I'd want any implication of an endorsement of Pain Killers quashed immediately).
I ordered Pain Killers because of some solid reviews, and because the plot sounded suitably off-the-wall and fun: on-again-off-again drug addict Manuel (Manny) Rupert gets hired to pose as a drug counselor in San Quentin to figure out if someone incarcerated there is actually who he claims to be: the uber-evil Nazi Josef Mengele. Along the way he crosses paths with a crazy television producer, a Jewish member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison guard that wants a sex change operation, and more than a few other oddballs. Now, I'll admit that the plot sounds a little contrived (o.k., a LOT contrived), but I thought that if the author could pull it off, it could be a fun read.
No such luck.
Pain Killers comes across as nothing so much as an attempt to channel Chuck Palahniuk (using characters you might find in an Elmore Leonard novel), and it fails miserably. The first-person narrative, written in Manny's voice, feels incredibly forced; the author seems far more concerned with thinking up wacky characters and finding quirky ways to phrase things than with writing a good story. The plot falls apart almost instantaneously, with absurd twists and character behavior that require superhuman suspension of disbelief. And Stahl begins more than a few plot lines that he simply walks away from. I don't want to post any spoilers (though if you're smart you'll avoid the book, so it wouldn't matter) but I can think of at least half a dozen events in the book that are major issues to Manny, none of which are ever resolved; Stahl appears to simply forget that they were ever brought up. And then there's Mengele's past: perhaps to make the book "edgy" Stahl also includes copious descriptions of hideous Nazi experiments. But, more often than not, they just feel like fascinated voyeurism rather than devices designed to advance plot or character development. Look, I'm not squeamish in the least, but I do expect passages of any sort to serve the story rather than give the impression of an author simply trying to gross me out or build a reputation.
Finally, there's Manny, whom I found completely unlikeable. I don't have a problem with flawed characters: let them shoot dope, let them have weird quirks, the more the merrier - but that's not the problem with Manny. Because while Stahl seems to be trying to give us a fallible tough guy, maybe Hammer or Marlowe with a dope problem, that's not what we get. Manny is neither a tough-guy nor a man driven by doing the right thing, he's just a creep. Stahl seems to be trying for oddball black humor and satire (both of which I love), but has no skills in either. Pain Killers is neither funny nor satirical, it's just bad.
So to sum it up: forced narrative + poorly drawn and unbelievable characters + ridiculous plot developments + Nazi medical experiments + forgotten plot points + unlikeable protagonist = too many hours that would have been better spent doing almost anything other than reading Pain Killers.