Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Review: Money Shot by Christa Faust

One can’t help but notice the irony of the books published by Hard Case Crime. In the nearly fifty-book run, every cover has a woman on it, usually painted to be beautiful, evocative, steamy, and just plain sexy. Another constant is that all the books have been written by men.

Until now. Christa Faust’s Money Shot is the first book written by a woman and published by HCC. Let me just tell you: it was worth the wait.

Most of the women on other covers of the other books have at least some clothes draped over them. The lady whose eyes bore into you from the cover of Money Shot is naked. Not nude. Naked. She’s wearing earrings, a cleverly-placed $100 bill, and nothing else. She’s got one hand teasing her hair, the fullness of her breasts are merely hinted at, covered by the folded bill. The smooth sway of her hips extend outward from the C-note, suggesting even more. You can’t tell if she’s standing or laying down but you can tell one thing for sure: she’s got a gun pointed right at your gut. And you know what she’s saying. In that soft teasing voice, she’s saying “You know you want it. I can see it in your eyes. Come on. Pick me up, open me, devour me, ravish me. I dare you not to. Because if you don’t, I’ll blow a hole in you.”

Thusly dared, thusly threatened, I picked up the book and discovered the woman’s name: Angel Dare, former porn star now owner of Daring Angels, an adult modeling agency. She’s through with the porn business—at least, from in front of the camera—but not with what the industry can still give her. And the cover blurb helps to define her character: “It would take more than bullets to stop Angel Dare.” So, if you, a potential reader, were not already drawn to the book by the cover painting (by Glen Orbik, here's a short interview) or the blurb, just give the book the first sentence and/or paragraph test. The first paragraph’s too long to quote here so I’ll give you the first few sentences.

Coming back from the dead isn’t as easy as they make it seem in the movies. In real life it takes forever to do little things like pry open your eyes. You spend excruciating ages trying to bend your left middle finger down far enough to feel the rope around your wrists. Even longer figuring out that the cold hard thing poking you in the cheek is one of the handles of a pair of jumper cables. This is not the kind of action that makes for gripping cinema.

But it does make for gripping fiction. From that first paragraph, I dare you not to read further (see, there’s that dare word again). Or how about this, the last two lines from the excerpted section in the front pages of the book.

"Angel Dare," he said. "Wow. You look amazing. This is gonna be awesome."
Then he punched me in the face.
This book is eye-opening. In stylish, unsentimental prose that holds nothing back and slaps you every now and then like they knows you need it, Faust and Dare skewer the porn industry, showing uneducated readers like myself what happens to the ‘glamorous’ guys and gals when the camera lights go off. It ain’t pretty. Nor is Angel Dare pretty after being punched, beaten, tortured, raped, shot, and left for dead. Oh, and then she’s framed for murder. She’s got ample reasons to be pissed off. It’s a good thing the folks at HCC didn’t commission that painting. People would run from the bookstores, screaming about the scary-looking woman with a gun in her hand and revenge in her eyes.

For that’s what Money Shot is: a revenge book. But unlike so many other crime fiction stories (mainly with men), Angel Dare is not a stone-cold killer who was trained in combat and can take out an adversary with her bare hands. She’s a normal, not-usually-violent person, just like the rest of us. And that’s when you realize that Angel’s story is our story. What would we do given the same set of circumstances? Angel Dare has to make those choices and make them from within herself. She does have help along the way but in every crucial milestone of this story, it’s Angel, by herself, in her head, making decisions. She lives with them, no matter how much it rips her heart out.

And we live with this book, at least for a time. There’s a lot in there. To be honest, this is a book I’m likely to read again, I enjoyed it so much. I know I probably missed things. The pace is fast but not breakneck. Angel has moments of contemplation and that allows the reader to catch his breath and then ask of himself the same questions Angel asks of herself. We may arrived at different answers than does Angel but it’s Angel’s story.

The end of the book, the last 30 pages, is almost sublime. For over 200 pages, Angel has gone through the ringer, operating by a set of rules so foreign to her that she doubts the kind of person she has become. But the actions she takes and the choices she makes in that last couple of chapters reveal the true nature of Angel’s character. I will spoil nothing here. You have to read it for yourself. Then, when it’s over, ask yourself that same question: what would you have done?

I highly recommend this book to folks who like this kind of book. It’s stark. The subject matter is not pretty and sometimes ugly. The jokes are often hilarious but not quotable here. Read it. I dare you not to.

What I Learned As A Writer: In many of the modern crime fiction/noir books I read, some authors relish in the graphic details of what happens to a person when flesh meets bullet or blade. That stuff happens in Money Shot. No doubt. I’ll leave it up to your moral code as to whether certain characters deserve what they got. But Faust pulls the less-is-more card from her deck. She lets the reader fill in all the blanks. And, given the circumstances of some of the scenes, I scared myself with the thoughts that I came up with. Genius storytelling.


Last week, I mentioned that Allan Guthrie has earned himself a place in my Must-Read list. Christa Faust is now there.

Among the folks who blurb the book (Megan Abbott, Vicki Hendricks, Jason Starr, Duane Swierczynski, and Allan Guthrie) is none other than McKenna Jordan, one of the good folks who work at Houston’s own mystery bookstore, Murder by the Book. Congrats McKenna.

At Christa’s website, she has posted a self-made trailer for the book. Check it out.

1 comment:

Jay Stringer said...

Enjoyed this book a hell of lot.

I found my attention drifting a bit in the middle, but then snapped right back as it entered the final third.

And i'll never look at a roll of tape the same way again...

I certainly like 'less is more'. Muxh like Elmore Leonards ten rules of writing, its a rule never to drift to far from.