Bling by Gerald Boyden is a dark crime drama set in present day Los Angeles. Filled with graphic scenes of city life, the lurid language and landscape of the streets shape the narrative. The characters in the story are larger than life; and the prose style is succinct and poetic.
Tex, a “good old boy” wearing a Stetson cowboy hat and proudly bearing the name of his home state, rides the drama from the opening scenes to the final pages of the novel. While appearing somewhat displaced in Los Angeles, due to his rough-neck manners and country western wardrobe, he proves to be a man able to acclimate to any social setting or condition. A former rodeo performer with a strong thirst for action, he has adapted to his new Skid Row lifestyle by assuming the role of a conman and common thief.
Pursued by the police from the moment we meet him in the story, Tex partners with a rag-tag team of criminals — including a Jewish-Irish drug-dealer with an Arabic accent, an ex-pro football player who owns a hamburger joint (and roughs people up if the pay is right), and a former Navy Seal — in order to stage a major jewelry heist. Doc Schnider, a notorious safecracker from Germany (having just served a seven year prison stint for theft), is the brains of the operation. Also known as the Professor — although his only doctorate comes from the college of World Class Crooks — this odd old man with a derby hat and a dirty mind has hatched a master plan to “hit” Winston’s Jewelry Exchange: a Los Angeles business which houses some of the most precious gems on the west coast. But can this team of misfits and charismatic criminals come together to perform a flawless act of grand larceny?
Boyden uses a broad brush-stroke to give the reader a panoramic view of the city. Yet he is also concerned with the details, carefully drawing each character and scene with a sketch artist’s precision and accuracy. Describing one section of the city he writes: “Rundown bars, cafes and liquor stores dot each side of the mean streets of Los-Angeles skid-row district. On this cold and windy night, a small group of unfortunate people are standing near the corner, warming their hands over a fire contained in a steel drum. The firemaster demolishes a wooden chair and coffee table, tossing the boards into the drum.” Like the stunning vignettes interspersed throughout the story — wherein Boyden scans the city and captures a series of urban scenes unfolding at a particular moment in time — each vivid chapter of the narrative provides an intimate portrait of life in Los Angeles.
A cross between a Charles Bukowski poem and the movie Sin City, Bling presents the reader with a realistic vision of life on the seedier side of town. ‘Scoundrels, lowlifes, pulp-protagonists, and fallen heroes’ are the subjects (and stars) of the story. Written with the concision of a journalist, and a pirate’s appetite for adventure, the narrative is at once gritty and aesthetically gratifying. With very little effort an imaginative director could turn this novel into an entertaining film noir.
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