(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale NOV 30, 2003)
Mark Haskell Smith's first novel, Moist, is one of the funniest books I have ever read, and if you can get past the violence and sex, also, surprisingly, very heart warming. Also similar to a good Elmore Leonard story, to enjoy this book you have to enjoy routing for the bad guys, who really are good guys.
Bob, a Los Angeles California pathology laboratory technician, is interrupted in his pursuit of naked women on the Internet, when his co-worker Morris brings in a severed arm. Bob soon falls in love with a tattoo of a naked woman on the arm. Although unknown to Bob at the time, the arm belongs to Amado, a member of the Mexican mafia who lost the arm while killing Carlos Vila, another member of the mafia. Amado describes how he lost the arm to Norberto, another member of the mafia who works for Amado, in this excerpt that shows Smith's black humor.
"If you killed him, what happened to your arm?"
Amado sighed again.
"I was hanging him in his garage. Make it look like it was suicido, you know? I was up on this ladder fixin' the rope and somehow, man, somehow I hit the fuckin' switch for the automatic door while my arm was stuck in the rails. This fuckin' chain wrapped around my arm and just . mira .look what it did. Just ripped my arm off."
Norberto stifled a laugh.
"Qué bárbaro, man."
"It's not funny, pendejo."
Norberto straightened up, more out of fear than respect.
"Pinche puta madre, cabrón."
When Estaban Sola, the local leader of the Mexican Mafia finds out about Amado's lost arm, he is concerned that the police will be able to trace the arm back to Amado and ultimately to him. He works with the brains of his organization, Martin, a non-Mexican (gringo), to develop a scheme to get the arm back before it is turned over to the police. The original scheme is to capture and kill Bob while he is on the way to deliver the arm, but eventually they decide that a better approach is to replace the arm with another arm, but one that needs the same tattoos as the original. Bob eventually agrees to this plan, especially if he is able to meet Felicia, the woman from the tattoo.
Don, an LAPD detective, has been trying to build a case against the Mexican mafia for some time and was disappointed when Carlos Vila, his main informant, was killed. He is hopeful though that the severed arm will give him clues that may tie Estaban Sola, his main target, to the mafia. He is disappointed when the arm does not show up in his office when originally planned and begins to track down where the arm may be. His visit to the pathology lab ultimately leads him to Maura, a masturbation coach and former girlfriend of Bob. The following is another funny excerpt from the book as Don first meets Maura.
"What do you do here?"
"I'm a masturbation coach."
She looked at the detective, expecting the reaction she always got, the disbelieving and dismayed bug-eyed jaw drop. Instead he seemed genuinely intrigued.
"Yeah? Is that like some kind of therapy?"
"There are many ways to enhance the orgasmic experience. There are breathing and relaxation techniques, different kinds of grips and strokes. A couple of sessions can really improve the quality of your masturbation."
The detective stood and extended his hand. "Do you have a card?"
This book is really funny, especially the scenes with Bob and the Mexican mafia. Bob befriends many of the mafia members and they like him as well, especially when he takes on the Spanish "Roberto" as his name. Smith certainly has a way of making the reader route for Bob and the mafia although he really doesn't make you dislike Don. Nonetheless, you will find yourself routing for the Mafia and hope that Don is not successful in tracking down Amado and Esteban Sola.
Obviously, this book is not for everyone. The language and sex are explicit and the content probably too graphic for many. I certainly wouldn't want my mother reading the book, or even this review, but if you can get past it, you will really find an enjoyable book. In addition, although many of the encounters lead to quick sex, many people fall in love, including, of course, Bob and Felicia.
I really enjoyed this book and will look forward to more from Mark Haskell Smith. I'm not sure if this book will have a sequel, but I would certainly like to read more about Bob/Roberto.
- Amazon readers rating: from 6 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- The official Web site for Mark Haskell Smith
- Drinks with Tony audio interview with Mark Haskell Smith
- Tim Maleeny review of Salty
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About the Author:
Mark Haskell Smith was a screenwriter in Hollywood for about 15 years; his credits include Playing God, Anaconda and Excess Baggage He lives in Los Angeles, California.