Written by John Patrick Lang — So, what is left of Jackson ‘Doc’ Holiday’s world, now that his multi-million dollar fraud scheme has collapsed around his ears? Well, there’s the Armani suits, Gucci loafers and handmade shirts, for starters. A total pariah in the legitimate financial world, what does he do? He becomes a San Francisco PI, of course!
The action starts with a series of frantic voicemails to Holiday from his buddy, a semi-alcoholic Mexican priest. When the priest does show, he’s dead in the seat of his car outside Holiday’s East Bay home, leaving behind a personal story full of holes and a reputation for being able to come up with huge sums of cash for parish projects. With a hard-nosed cop, Hobbs, breathing down his neck, Holiday crosses paths with a rich but deadly drug baron, a vodka and amphetamine swilling nut who is just one tweak away from perfecting an engine that will run on seawater, and one of the most sensational erotic femmes fatales I have read about in years.
In amongst it all, Holiday is reassuringly human. He is useless with a gun, so-so with his fists, full of financial savvy and a sucker for a pretty face, particularly when it adorns a voluptuous body. Just when he thinks he has figured out all the angles, however, the rug is pulled spectacularly from under his feet.
The hardboiled, wisecracking PI may not be the biggest cliché in crime fiction anymore. That accolade is reserved for the maverick, misanthropic police detective who falls foul of their boss, but still solves the crime. But how does Lang’s West Cost PI shape up against the legends of the genre? No-one is ever going to be as poetic as Marlowe, or a wise-ass and tough as Spenser, but Holiday has certainly made an impressive debut. The dialogue crackles, the humour is black, and the bad guys are suitably dissolute. One-liners fly off the page like sparks from a welding torch.
Holiday begins one chapter thus: “I don’t wear a necktie much anymore, only when I am having lunch with an international arms dealer or attending the opening night of a new production of a feminist play.”
The brutal case-cracking cop, Hobbs, also cracks a good gag: “…as soon as the Oakland PD organises a séance we will be questioning him.”
“Séance? Handsome Jack is dead?”
“Yeah, ” said Hobbs, “and the two slugs in his left temple pretty much rule out natural causes.”
Weak points? Maybe just a couple. It would be better to know that Holiday has narrowly escaped a custodial sentence for a massive financial scam involving banks and mortgages. When Lang set out to explain the caper in detail, it’s far too complex to be even vaguely interesting. I just had to ride along until we returned to the action.
A fellow author has described the writing as ‘Chandlerian’, which is one hell of a description to live up to. With the labyrinthine plot, and the way in which no-one is really who they seem to be, The Big Bitch is a good effort. However, even the greatest ever master of plot twists would stir uneasily in his San Diego grave at the big reveal in the last few pages of this book.
Neither of these quibbles should prevent anyone from enjoying this book hugely, and racing through it at a break-neck pace. I suspect I am not the only member of the Jackson Holiday Appreciation Society, and I look forward to his next appearance.
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CFL Rating: 4 Stars