With the amount of Top Ten lists it made in 2011, Matthew McBride and his debut novel aren’t exactly unknown quantities. A kick-in-the-balls title, Frank Sinatra in a Blender, doesn’t hurt either. With its cocktail of shotgun pacing, extreme violence and black-as-pitch humor, all of the accolades and praise it’s seen is well-deserved.
Private Eye Nick Valentine hasn’t found a drink or drug he doesn’t like. Using a steady regiment of Oxycontin and bourbon (or gin, or Corona, or—frequently—all at once) to keep his mind limber, he swerves through the Saint Louis underground, breaking legs, twisting arms and getting creative with the meaning ‘spirit of the law.’ He used to be a cop, but the job didn’t love him back, so he gets by as a dick-for-hire as long as people keep robbing, cheating and killing. So when a credit union heist go fatally wrong, and conventional (read: legal) means turn up nothing, the boys in blue call up Valentine. Enter one of the most colorful and distinctive casts of characters in recent memory, from Johnny No-Nuts to faux New York gangbanger Bruiser to the eponymous Frank Sinatra, Valentine’s Yorkshire terrier, and it’s not hard to imagine you’re in A Confederacy of Dunces if Toole’s New Orleans had fallen into the frozen basement where they store the men too bad for Purgatory. As if this lot of sociopaths wasn’t enough to carry even the most reluctant reader through the book, the plot grabs the reader’s short and curlies on the first page and doesn’t let go, even after the book is done.
Vonnegut said somewhere that writers should give the reader everything up front and to Hell with suspense. Though it’s seemingly counter-intuitive to agree with that in the context of a mystery/crime novel, it works so, so well. In the first couple pages, we get everything we need to know about Nick Valentine. He’s called by the Chief of Police to supervise a crime scene because the man can’t be there himself but wants some experienced eyes around. Valentine sits in his car, finishing up his gin and blowing a 20-mg Oxy to get his head in the game before going inside. Once on the scene, he corrects other officers’ observations and debunks their theories, all while riding a gnarly narcotic high. Whether this can be attributed to the inevitability I always go on about or just the sheer power of the narrative voice, I don’t know.
I don’t really care either.
It doesn’t matter because Frank Sinatra in a Blender is so much goddamned fun to read that all my intentions of building a cogent analysis of plot, motivation and all the other mechanisms detailed in The Hero with a Thousand Faces or any McKee book are shot to Hell because I got so caught up in the mayhem, frankly, I forgot to analyze. The only thing that really mile-posted my reading was the number of Easter Eggs and references scattered through the novel, a nice touch I thought. I think this reading-juggernaut is more a product of McBride himself having an utter blast when writing the novel, a thought reinforced after reading a touching and inspiring post recently on his website. If this book was a movie, it would be one where everyone in the audience jumps every three minutes, tossing popcorn and screaming themselves hoarse at the screen. Actually, this should be a movie. Film people, take note.
The force of this book has made itself evident, and not just in its critical success. Initially released as an e-book by the excellent people at Concord Free Press, New Pulp Press has picked it up and will be releasing both an e-book and paperback. Which will be nice, so you don’t spit bourbon over your new Kindle while screaming, ‘Bring out the fucking chainsaw!’