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.