Fast, nasty, kinky, violent pulp. Too many authors try to deliver it unsuccessfully. Crafting something that deserves to be called all those things is no easy task, so when I find a novel or novella that has all of it, I’m really happy for a few hours. In The Scent of New Death, speed, kinkiness, and viciousness is exactly what author Mike Monson delivers, and he also throws in sharp dialogue and very likeable main character as a bonus.
Phil Gaines has been making a living as a bank robber for more than decade. He’s fast, sharp, and always focused. Instead of crazy parties and tons of drugs and booze, Phil spends his time practicing meditation in his nondescript apartment in Modesto, California. Unfortunately, his lifestyle changes when he meets Paige, a gorgeous young redhead that his opposite in every way: she’s loud, wild, kinky, and hyperactive. The whirlwind relationship quickly leads to marriage, but the discrepancies in their tastes soon bore Paige. When Jeff, Phil’s bank robbing partner, meets Paige, they hit it off because they like the same things and understand each other. When Paige convinces Phil to let her come along during a job, she abandons him, takes his cut, and flees with Jeff. To make matters worse, she also cleaned out his apartment and bank account before the job. What follows is a fast, ultraviolent story about vengeance and justice that’s packed with bad intentions, brutal murders, and violent sex.
The Scent of New Death is a hell of a fun read. Coming in at 130 pages and with a prose driven forward at top speed by sex and violence, this is the kind of novella you can devour in one sitting, and it’s hard not to. For starters, Phil is the kind of “good” bad guy that’s hard not to root for. Sure, he’s a career criminal with a shady past whose mellow demeanor doesn’t quite make up for the fact that he’s a killer with a temper that shouldn’t be put to the test, but he’s also quiet, humble, and very smart. Also, what Paige and Jeff do to him, not to mention what they plan on doing to him next, turns him into a victim instead of a criminal, and that makes the reader thirst for revenge even more.
Back in 1999, I had no idea who Donald E. Westlake was, but I knew I really dug the movie Payback (back then, Mel Gibson was cool). After the first few chapters of The Scent of New Death, I felt like I was reading something new that me feel like I was in familiar territory, and then I remembered Payback and its source/inspiration. It would’ve been easy for Monson to repeat that, but he opted for something different. Granted, he’s not inventing the wheel here when it comes to the basic plot elements, but what he does with that frame is truly unique and definitely worth a read. For example, Paige is one of the kinkiest, sexiest villains I’ve encountered in a while. There are plenty of crazy women in crime fiction, but this one likes to have sex on the side of the road while staring at the dying homeless man bleeding to death on the ground a few feet from her. Also, the brutal and absolutely senseless carnage in the last third of the novel is something that pushes the narrative’s level of viciousness into one even fans of hardcore horror can enjoy. Yeah, Monson probably didn’t intend this one to be very popular with the YA market.
The Scent of New Death is a superb offering of bloody, sexy pulp. If Mike Monson is not yet on your radar, read this and put him there.