Written by Mike Monson — Phil Gaines is not much of a man. He is scrawny. His skin is pale and hairless. He looks like an unemployed accountant. Despite his physical imperfections, he has one very important skillset. He is a very talented bank robber. Operating out of his nondescript Modesta apartment, he has ruthlessly and efficiently executed a string of bank heists across California. His planning is immaculate. His timing is Olympic in its perfection. He has one ally – his getaway driver, Jeff. Jeff is everything that Phil isn’t. He is tall and tanned and young and lovely, and has an unquenchable appetite for sex and violence.
Phil has learned a restorative and fortifying version of Zen Buddhism during a stay in jail, and between heists, he tops up his mental equilibrium with sessions murmuring ancient chants and sitting in uncomfortable positions. His Far Eastern purity stands him in no stead whatsoever when he visits a bar for a quiet beer, and is captivated by a tall, alluring redhead called Paige. She is nothing if not forward, and after a bout of energetic sex he reveals that he is, by trade, a bank robber. Paige is totally sucked in by this, and offers her hand in marriage, with the proviso that she can be part of the team for the next bank job.
Phil is mesmerised by Paige’s charms, and agrees to her demands. Introducing her to his team-mate Jeff is an unwelcome but necessary formality, but while Phil is downstairs, poolside, cooking steaks, Jeff and Paige introduce themselves to each other in a very basic but potent fashion. When the next bank robbery takes place – involving Paige, as per the pre-nuptial agreement – Phil is devasted when Paige and Jeff hop into the same getaway vehicle together, and speed away, flipping him the finger.
Readers who aren’t fans of pulp crime fiction may have looked away already but for the enthusiasts, the next few chapters spiral into a vortex of violence, sex and and slaughter. Jeff and Paige seek to eliminate Phil, with the aid of a few degenerate bikers, and one of Jeff’s other love interests – a celebrated porn star – is drawn into the plot. Meanwhile, Phil licks his wounds, calls in some favours, and recruits a few dangerous hoodlums of his own. It is not really a spoiler to hint that bloody mayhem breaks out. While the moral high ground is notable by its absence, a certain sort of justice takes place and relative order is restored by the end of the book.
Mike Monson’s novella doesn’t add anything new to the genre, where clichés are not only expected, but required. The writing is certainly slick and slippery, and it is entertaining in a breathless kind of way. I read it through in about half an hour, and while I didn’t feel particularly enriched by the experience, it works well enough.
Out of the Gutter
CFL Rating: 3 Stars