Reviewed by: Ryan Bracha
Genre: Crime/General Fiction
Approximate word count: 40,000 – 45,000 words
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Ken Leek appears to be a very elusive character, but on digging I discovered him to be aspiring author hailing from San Diego. He plays in a band called Piglife, and describes himself as an 'Author of Gritty Realism.'
It's the mid-eighties in Southern California and our narrator, the teenage compulsive runaway Mike Hollister, charts his many adventures in a seedy underworld where his peers are drug dealers and addicts alike. When he turns to heroin he also turns his back on the criminal friends he once had, to simultaneously fall in love, and devise the most lucrative and imaginative operation possible, with violent consequences.
I was attracted to the book initially, as an earlier review that I had seen on Amazon had compared this work to that of Chuck Palahniuk, and whilst I can see why that reviewer felt moved to compare to such illustrious talent, I don't entirely agree. Sure, a lot of the apparently well researched information is delivered in the assured and confident manner of a narrator that knows exactly what they are talking about, but my view on it is that where Palahniuk takes a small idea or concept and stretches it out of all plausible shape, the story that Leek is telling is still far-fetched, but remains plausible. It's a credit to Leek himself, that whilst he cites Chuck P as an influence, he also manages to retain his own voice in his storytelling.
Let me tell you now then, that the book itself is not for the faint hearted. It is, however, a funny, sickeningly violent, and brutally honest account of a young man in the eighties who makes various transitions from curious witness of uncompromising criminal activities, through small time drug dealer and canyon dwelling runaway, to a hardcore drug addict and willing result of an unorthodox upbringing. It starts out slightly unfocussed, as a series of loose vignettes, with the last sentence of each one acting as an introduction to the next. But, as the tale goes on, and begins to concentrate a lot more on the evolving anti-hero Mike, you realise that they are all well placed pieces of the back story jigsaw. Leek describes his world in such vivid and fantastic detail (he even goes so far as to include floor plans and school reports for added colour) that you know exactly who is where and what they're doing. Some of the more violent passages are told with great humour, and whilst the subject matter is grim, and gut-wrenching, Leek continues to keep his tongue firmly in cheek.
My advice is to enter this book with a completely open mind, and, once you've overcome an initial frustration with the vignette device and the story settles down, let Mike take you on a filthy and violent trip into the darkest depths of the human condition, and make sure you have plenty of soap to hand because you're going to need a shower afterwards. I understand that a sequel is in the pipeline, and I will personally be seeking it out. A very good read indeed.
Adult language and content throughout.
Rating: ***** Five Stars