"Since when has a Hard Case Crime cover ever had anything to do with what's inside the book?"
PIMP (2016) is the fourth entry in the "Max and Angela" series of comic crime novels, written by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr and published by Hard Case Crime. The other novels in the series are BUST (2006), SLIDE (2007) and THE MAX (2008). I've read all of the previous books and enjoyed them but I can't honestly say the same thing about PIMP.
It's not a bad book, it's just that far too much time has elapsed since I'd read the previous books and I had a more than a little bit of trouble remembering the circumstances that put would be drug kingpin Max Fisher and his hot-to-trot Greek girlfriend Angela Petakis into their current predicaments. And for anyone who hasn't read the other three books, faggidaboutit. You'll be hopelessly lost if you start the series with PIMP.
But even with a cursory knowledge of the characters and situations, PIMP is just too damn cute for it's own good. It's all wink-wink, nudge-nudge, look-how-clever-we-are writing by Bruen and Starr. There's not much of a plot to speak of in this wildly self-referential, meta-textual novel full of inside jokes about crime novels, the publishing and book selling businesses, television and film production and a celebrity name drop on almost every page. The more you know about these subjects and industries, the more jokes you'll get. Some of the jokes are funny, some aren't but the constant jibes and japery gets old quickly.
The book opens with Max Fisher, believed to be dead at the end of THE MAX, alive and well (at least, as well as Max can be). He's had meatball plastic surgery and put on weight but he's back in the drug kingpin game with a new product called PIMP (Peyote, Insulin, Mescaline and a sprinkle of Psychosis). You think the story is going to be about Max and drugs but that's just the first chapter as Bruen and Starr have a fairly large cast of characters to introduce and numerous plots and sub-plots to set up and spin out, all of which eventually dovetail into a semi-coherent plot. Along the way, there's a surfeit of drugs, hardcore sex, profanity and obscenity laced dialogue and casual violence and murders (the body count really mounts up).
The main through line of PIMP lies in the conceit that BUST, the book, is about to become a cable television series. Turns out than in this universe, BUST wasn't a novel by Bruen and Starr, but a true crime book about the early career of Max Fisher. There's a mad scramble to line up producers, money men, movie studios, script writers and performers to play the characters. Every one is out for her/himself with crosses and double crosses aplenty.
Bruen and Starr strain mightily to give the dialogue an Elmore Leonardesque vibe but even when Leonard was being funny, he was never this over-the-top. As a result of the non-stop jokes and snarkiness, no real suspense or tension is ever built or sustained. You know everything is a put-on, a loony lark through a La La Land landscape littered with corpses. It's a letdown after the first three books, all of which had their share of wild humor and laughs but were better crafted than this one.
I can't say I hated it but I can only recommend PIMP to hardcore Hard Case Crime fans. Casual readers need not bother.