Fante takes no prisoners in this hardcore thriller set in Malibu, California, the scene of a grisly murder and the killing fields of a serial killer. Known for its pricey real estate and celebrity residents, Malibu's sandy beaches are the playground of the rich and famous. Local AA meetings are rife with stars-in-recovery mingling with the usual members. Former New York City PI and currently unemployed recovering alcoholic JD Fiorella gets a job selling used cars through the efforts of his friend Woody, an aspiring screenwriter from JD's regular AA meeting.
The beauty of the setting takes an ironic turn when JD visits Woody one afternoon only to discover a blood-soaked corpse, clearly tortured and specifically mutilated. DJ is caught in a time warp, his recent efforts at maintaining sobriety cautioning him to avoid a violent reaction, his PI experience pointing towards an investigation and his instincts demanding revenge. This is a heinous crime, one he can't just walk away from, though he covers his tracks, wiping away incriminating fingerprints in the apartment, even removing a critical piece of evidence before leaving the scene. Unfortunately, he doesn't escape the curiosity of the local detectives, both of whom view DJ as a person of interest.
Because he reports Woody's bloodied corpse to the authorities, DJ is firmly in the detectives' sights, his new job a train wreck of mismanagement, unable to return to the apartment he has finally rented (thanks to Woody's generosity), his tendency to act before thinking exacerbated by a series of mishaps since the day he engaged in an altercation with a speeding driver in Malibu. Now DJ is challenged to proceed without the usual collateral self-destruction, to figure out why his life has suddenly taken such a drastic downward turn and find Woody's killer.
Fante is a master of black humor, his protagonist playing a deadly serious cat-and-mouse game with a psychopathic killer, stymied at every turn by a foe he has yet to name. Through the rage, blood and chaos, JD stubbornly clings to his sobriety (and sanity) while skewering the contemporary recovery scene in Malibu, delivering a running commentary at his meetings on the nature of recovery for the celebrity set. Grateful for a job but at the mercy an abusive employer, Fiorella chafes at the humiliations he must endure for a paycheck. But once Woody is killed, DJ is a man possessed, planning an equally painful ending for his friend's murderer.
Fante writes without inhibition in blunt prose that captures the world of a newly sober man living in paradise and haunted by demons both internal and external. By the time DJ realizes that he is the target of the mayhem, the novel is teeming with the bizarre and the outrageous, larger-than-life, unpredictable characters, from an autocratic boss to a seductive coworker, the entitled daughter of a fabulously wealthy man who has never been told no, the unfortunate Woody, and even his elderly mother, who does astronomical charts for customers but can't abide her son's drunken peccadilloes. In the bright glare of the California sun, in a community awash with star power and wealth, there is more than one monster at large, though neither is aware of the sleeping giant awakened in Fiorella.
Not for the faint of heart, Fante’s story drives from beginning to end with characteristic raw energy, sugar-coating neither sobriety nor the details of a murdering monster who favors torture for his select victims, including Fiorella. Sometimes gruesome, often acerbic and brutal, Fante is slyly seductive. His revelations are shocking but precise, lifting the corners of those murky places where prurient interests reside. is impossible to put down, a guilty pleasure to pass along to anyone not afraid to walk on the wild side of the human psyche.