Saturday, November 26, 2016

Book Reviews: Chaingang

By Rex Miller
I reviewed one of the late Rex Miller's books before here. He was not an author for the faint of heart as the saying goes. He was writing deliberately shocking ultraviolence before similar modern artists like Tarantino did the same on the movie screen. Like Stephen King Miller could cheerfully go for the grossout but he didn't have quite the same gift at creating believable human characters that stuck with you after the book had finished. No one is perfect of course. Miller's most memorable character was one Daniel Edward Flowers Bunkowski. He introduced this character in an earlier book Slob, in which it appeared that the hero, Detective Jack Eichord, put an end to Bunkowski aka Chaingang. But much like with Arthur Conan Doyle bringing back Sherlock Holmes from the dead, Miller evidently had more stories to tell about old Chaingang. The book Chaingang takes place in the early nineties. The title character is a serial killer. But he's not your run of the mill serial killer. He's a man who stands 6'7" and weighs close to 500 lbs. A Vietnam War vet, Bunkowski served as a special assassin for the government on various classified black jobs throughout Southeast Asia. Both before and after his government service he has killed so many people that he's lost count. He's extremely dangerous, not just because of his size, strength and sheer malevolence towards all humanity but because his intelligence is off the charts. He's able to use more of his brain than most people and maintain conscious control over functions that are automatic for most of us. His abilities to detect and anticipate danger verge on the supernatural. Bunkowski's brain is a literal library; his memory is massive. The kinds of activities Bunkowski thinks of as fun are things I won't mention here. Bunkowski's only saving grace is that he has a soft spot for animals in general and dogs in particular. Bunkowski grew up under horrific sexual and physical abuse from his foster parents. Bunkowski's only childhood friend was a dog who similarly suffered. At the book's beginning Bunkowski is detained at the Marion Federal Prison. For reasons that line up exactly with some of the real world evil our government has committed for the so called greater good, Bunkowski is released in the vicinity of a small Missouri town. 

Sam Perkins, a realtor in that town, has convinced a number of nearby residents to sell their land at inflated prices to a secretive out of town consortium which states that it's going to be building an environmentally friendly industrial park. When Sam disappears after these sales are completed his wife Mary gets the run around from both the local authorities and the FBI. In desperation she turns to her former main squeeze Royce Hawthorne for help. Royce and Mary go way back and had something even more intense before Mary decided to wed the boring but attentive Sam. Mary thinks highly of Royce or at least of the Royce she used to know in the days of yore. Modern day Royce has substance abuse issues and other, well problems, that he tries to hide from Mary. Trying to live up to who Mary thinks he is is a challenge but one that Royce is desperate to accomplish. When he starts looking into Sam's dealings he finds some things that don't add up. And that's when Royce and Mary come to the attention of people they're both better off not knowing. Royce is no Detective Jack Eichord. So without a morally good or believably competent character to identify with this book is not as ngaging as it could have been. Perhaps for this reason, Miller had Bunkowski run into (and deal with severely)  many morally dubious people (mercenaries, dog fighting ring operators) but because Bunkowski is just as bad if not worse than the worst people he meets there's not any satisfaction at seeing a bad person get his just deserts. 

You could make the argument that no one deserves Bunkowski. This book was only a little over 200 pages but it felt longer. It needed Eichord in it.
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