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Pain Killers: A Novel by Jerry Stahl
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Pain Killers: A Novel (2011)

by Jerry Stahl

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I have a nasty habit of discovering excellent series in the middle. Very seldom am I lucky enough to read a novel with characters and situations that I thoroughly enjoy, and then later discover that they have been carried over into new novels. Instead, what often happens is that I find out a book I liked is from the middle (or sometimes end) of an excellent series, and I am forced to backtrack and collect the previous books.

Needless to say, I was not lucky enough to catch Manny Rupert, Jerry Stahl's flighty ex-cop drug addict turned private detective, in his first book, Plainclothes Naked. However, Pain Killers is only the second novel in a what will hopefully be a longer series.

Stahl's writing has always had an edge to it. Not surprising, considering that his real life exploits (as recounted in Permanent Midnight: A Memoir) have been a tad edgy themselves. But it isn't the edge that makes Stahl's writing so good. It is the way he manages to combine it with a dark humor that doesn't flinch at the ugliness unfolding around it. A drug addict ex-policeman posing as prison rehab counselor in order to investigate a possible ex-Nazi in hiding shouldn't be funny. But then Stahl throws lines at you like "If I were a pedophile, I'd paint kittens." He knows what shouldn't be funny, and he knows how to make you laugh at it.

Manny Rupert isn't the kind of hero you root for because he's one of the good guys. He's the guy you root for because, as depraved as he is, he's nowhere near as bad as the people he is surrounded by. Besides, at least he can see the humor of it all, as bitter as it may be. If you're like me, and prefer your leading man to be less than perfect, you'll definitely want to pick up a copy of Pain Killers. ( )
  smichaelwilson | Aug 17, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Let me begin by saying this is a weird book. I generally enjoy wired book because books are supposed to take you into an alternate reality right?

This book however makes Kafka look tame by comparison. The premise is that A man in hired to go undercover to see if a prison guard is really a Nazi Camp guard in hiding. It delves into the world of drug addicts and prostitution and other underbelly activities. It takes twist and turns that no reader could have anticipated. It has dark undertones throughout the book. It also has a good psychological bent as it explores the dark side of human nature. It was entertaining to be able to see that whole spectrum without actually being in any harm. He also injects humor into his subject so you don't feel as if he is dragging you down. Some books after you have read them leave you feeling more depressed than you were before reading them. Not so with Pain Killers.

When I arrived at the end of the book I was like what?! huh? That is a good thing in my opinion. Not many books have that ability. A book that takes you on a ride has accomplished its purpose. ( )
  purplemoonstar | Sep 1, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book should have been a book I loved. It reminded of writers that I really enjoy like Charlie Huston, James Ellroy, Andrew Vachss, Joe R. Lansdale, and more. It has that blend of fast-paced humor and violence that I dig.

But towards the end of the book, there were scenes that just dragged on and on. They were presented under the guise of dialog, but it was mostly one character droning on and on about things. It was as if Stahl had a bunch of stuff he had thought up (or perhaps researched) that he felt the reader needed to know, but it didn't really add to the story.

The most distressing thing about this was that Stahl had spent the whole novel up to that point painting the villains and pseudo-bad guys as very smart and clever, and these scenes just felt dumb. Once I got to this point, then the general absurdity of the novel (which I had been enjoying) started to bug me, too.

It got me worried about how he was going to wrap the book up. The ending was actually very rewarding, and worked a lot better than I thought it might. I'd certainly check out other book by Stahl, but if too many of them are like this I might have to pass on them in the future. ( )
  johnklima | Nov 18, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book free through the LibraryThing Early Readers Program.

Manny Rupert, an addict, a cop kicked off the force, an the ex-husband of a murderer, is back for round two. This time he's been hired to go undercover in San Quentin and determine whether a sick old man in for vehicular manslaughter is really who he claims to be—the infamous Nazi Doctor of Death, Joseph Mengele.

That's where Pain Killers starts, but where it goes is on an insane, gritty, noir venture through the darkest parts of society. Pain Killers is a humorous black romp if by humorous you mean “Oh my God they went there” and by romp you mean going by limo from prison snail back love shack to Christian porn sets to meth houses and mansions and back again. This novel is, to steal a line, truly, truly outrageous.

Stahl's humor is not for everyone, possibly not for anyone that possesses an iota of sensitivity about religion, psychology, the human condition, addiction, sex, or just about any subject. But there's a sort of victorious feel to seeing character so truly messed up still intelligent and stubborn and taking on the face of human evil. There's more talking than action, so the pace is not forceful or fast. At times the conversations while interesting and amusing come off as off topic, when the point is to solve a mystery. And the WTF factor is, at times, very high. But it's a wild ride, different from everything else out there which certainly has an audience in today's marketplace. ( )
  Michele_lee | Nov 2, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was an okay read. The characters are fantastic, and I think that's the only reason I was able to get through it. I love the main character and the language of the book, but the plot seemed strange to me. There were a lot of jumps and twists that I didn't understand and much of which I feel like wasn't explained very well. I'm not sure what exactly happened in the novel, but it was amusing and fun nonetheless. ( )
  sedelia | Sep 7, 2009 |
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Book description
From the acclaimed and controversial author of Permanent Midnight comes one of the most vividly subversive, savagely funny, and explosive novels yet unleashed in our tender century. Pain Killers is a violent and mind-wrenching masterpiece in the gonzo noir style that has earned Jerry Stahl his legion of avid fans.

Down-and-out ex-cop and not-quite-reformed addict Manny Rupert accepts a job going undercover to find out if an old man locked up in a California prison is who he claims to be: the despicable—and allegedly dead—Josef Mengele, aka the Angel of Death. What if, instead of drowning thirty years ago, the sadistic legend whose Auschwitz crimes still horrify faked his own death and is now locked up in San Quentin, ranting and bitter about being denied the adulation he craves for his contribution to keeping the Master Race pure—if no longer masterful?

After accidentally reuniting with ex-wife and love of his life, Tina, at San Quentin—they first met at the crime scene where Tina murdered her first husband with Drano-laced Lucky Charms—Manny spends a bad night imbibing boxed wine and questionable World War One morphine, hunched over a trove of photos showing live genital dissections that plant him in the middle of a conspiracy involving genocide, drugs, eugenics, human experiments, and America's secret history of collusion with German believers in Nordic superiority.

Manny's quest sends him careening from one extreme of apocalypse-adjacent reality to the other: from SS-inked Jewish shotcallers to meth-crazed virgin hookers, from Mexican gangbangers to Big Pharma–financed prison research to an animal shelter that gasses more than stray dogs and cats . . .

Pain Killers captures one man's struggle against a perverse and demented scheme of global proportions, in a literary tour de force as outrageous, compelling, and dangerous as history itself. Not for the faint of heart, the novel hurtles readers into a disturbing, original, and alarmingly real world filled with some of the kinkiest sex, most horrific violence, and screaming wit ever found on the page—proving yet again that Stahl is, as The New Yorker described him, "a better-than-Burroughs virtuoso."
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"Down-and-out ex-cop and not-quite-reformed addict Manny Rupert accepts a job going undercover to find out if an old man locked up in a California prison is who he claims to be: the despicable - and allegedly dead - Josef Mengele, aka the Angel of Death. What if, instead of drowning thirty years ago, the sadistic legend whose Auschwitz crimes still horrify faked his own death and is now locked up in San Quentin, ranting and bitter about being denied the adulation he craves for his contribution to keeping the Master Race pure - if no longer masterful?" "After accidentally reuniting with ex-wife and love of his life,Tina, at San Quentin - they first met at the crime scene where Tina murdered her first husband with Drano-laced Lucky Charms - Manny spends a bad night imbibing boxed wine and questionable World War One morphine, hunched over a trove of photos showing live genital dissections that plant him in the middle of a conspiracy involving genocide, drugs, eugenics, human experiments, and America's secret history of collusion with German believers in Nordic superiority." "Manny's quest sends him careening from one extreme of apocalypse-adjacent reality to the other: from SS-inked Jewish shotcallers to meth-crazed virgin hookers, from Mexican gangbangers to Big Pharma-financed prison research to an animal shelter that gasses more than stray dogs and cats."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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