September 9, 2013

Criminal Masterminds and Oxy Morons: a review of Matthew McBride's "Frank Sinatra in a Blender"

Frank Sinatra in a Blender
by Matthew McBride
New Pulp Press (2012)
220 pages
ISBN13: 9780985578602

I first heard about this novel some months back when it was reviewed on the Booked Podcast, thought it sounded really promising, then found a review copy in my mailbox one day. Two hundred and twenty Oxy-feuled pages later, this uproarious look at the underbelly of St. Louis may be one of my favorite reads of 2013. It at least has my favorite title of 2013.

Nick Valentine, a St. Louis P.I.--don't forget functioning alcoholic and painkiller addict--gets called in to consult on what looks like a suicide but turns out to be a shabbily disguised murder. The manager for a credit union is dead and the next day that same credit union is robbed by two bumbling crooks in a milk truck. Now, for all intents and purposes, a guy with as many vices as Valentine should be persona non grata as far as lending a helping hand to law enforcement goes, but his father was a cop killed in the line of duty, and his father's old partner is now the chief of police and kind of a godfather for Valentine. With that kind of clout on his side, Valentine seems able to get away with a lot, including snorting Oxycontin in his car before going to check out a crime scene crawling with boys in blue.

So, in this piece of noir, if Valentine is what passes for a hero, just imagine what the villains are like. When not getting a first hand perspective of Valentine's ordeal, alternating chapters offer glimpses to the crooks in questions, as well as the even more sinister individuals who want to get their hands on the money. It's often said that real life criminals are far less intelligent than their fictional counterparts. Well, I don't think anyone in McBride's novel are card-carrying MENSA members, but what they lack in brains they make up for in bravado and brutality.

Matthew McBride's debut novel takes what starts out as an otherwise ordinary crime story, but viewed through the lenses of a heavily flawed detective and downright wretched criminals. Even the supporting player who comes closest to wearing a white hat, an Amish ex-pat turned supercop, has an air of bad intentions. If Valentine has a redeeming quality, it is the love he has for his dog, Frank Sinatra. Okay, it's a love/hate relationship, really. The yippy Yorkie would try my patience, that's for sure, but Valentine seems at peace with the manic, slightly deranged mutt's daily routine while cooped up in his apartment. And if you're curious as to why the dog is named Frank Sinatra, and why there is reference to a blender in the novel's title, well you're just gonna have to read the book to find out for yourself.

If you like anti-heroes, you'll love Nick Valentine. Well, love is a strong word. You'll certainly be riveted. And while the St. Louis tourism bureau might not be in a hurry to use this novel as promotional material, crime fiction lovers everywhere should flock to it in droves. Captivating characters, an increasingly intense plot, a whiskey-soaked sense of humor, and a memorable payoff at the very end. I don't think I could have asked for more from this novel. But I will ask for more from its author, as I'm keen to see what he does with his second novel.


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