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Zahler substitutes violence for storytelling

Review: Violence heavily shrouds S. Craig Zahler's 'Mean Business on North Ganson Street'

Zahler substitutes violence for storytelling

"Mean Business on North Ganson Street" (St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books), by S. Craig Zahler

Screenwriter S. Craig Zahler imbues his first crime fiction with elements of a Western as an honest police detective tries to clean up a town that oozes corruption. But relentless violence heavily shrouds "Mean Business on North Ganson Street," often overshadowing character development and plot nuances.

What Arizona police detective Jules Bettinger lacks in subtlety and tact he makes up in intuitiveness. But his solid reputation doesn't help him when his frank talk with a distraught man ends in tragedy. Jules has two choices -- be fired from his job or transfer to the deteriorating town of Victory, Missouri.

The ironically named Victory, population about 26,000, has a staggering crime rate. On his first day on the job, Jules is told that each of Victory's 24 police officers is responsible for a minimum of 700 criminals, of which about 400 or 500 have committed violent acts. Faced with such odds, the police officers, including Jules' partner, Dominic Williams, are just as lawless. Jules is soon in the middle of a war between the criminals and the cops, and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. After two officers are savagely executed and others are murdered, the violence escalates, permeating every neighborhood and reaching into the officers' homes as Jules' moral compass disintegrates.

Zahler evocatively illustrates a city on the verge of moral and economic collapse, a place so vile that Jules would rather live 80 miles away than subject his wife and two children to Victory.

While the author makes the police procedural aspects of the story gripping, he substitutes violence for insightful storytelling or exploring his characters' psyches.

Updated : 2021-06-25 10:02 GMT+08:00