THE ART OF REDEMPTION
By Bob Truluck
Joe Ready’s all but had it. He’s ninety-eight, he’s in the hospital, and he’s so horizontal that he could slide off this mortal coil at any moment. Joe’s not so horizontal that he doesn’t want to hear some stories about himself from his younger partner, Jimmy Cotton, though. Back in the day, Joe was the story teller, now it’s Jimmy’s turn. It could be called Joe’s living eulogy; it could be called a wake. Whatever it is, Jimmy tells it.
Jimmy’s own story starts out with draft lottery numbers and watching a kid standing right beside him get a National Guard bullet through the brain during the infamous anti-war demonstration at Kent State, Ohio, in May of 1970, an event that ended him up at his mom’s condo in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was looking to escape the same something that all the drifting and lost souls in the 70s were looking to escape–but what he found instead was Joe Ready, living right next door.
Joe takes Jimmy on a narrative journey through the 1930s and Joe’s career as a hunter of kidnapers. Starting off with a startling account of Katherine Kelly, Machine Gun’s better half, he takes Jimmy into a world where this Joe Ready guy seems far too intimately conversant with those who would have to be considered the “Moguls of the underground economy” of that era. Big time crooks and gangsters, in other words. Ready goes up against Ma and Freddy Barker, the Lindbergh kidnapers, Johnny Torrio, Meyer Lansky, and even Meyer’s Cuban buddy, Fulgencio Batista. Then Joe jumps his tale back to the late 1920s, when he was an actual L.A.P.D. cop, and got involved in the particularly horrendous kidnapping of a 12-year-old girl; the very same case, in fact, that started his hatred of all kidnapers, and especially those of children. That particular story–and all of the kidnappings in this “fiction” / picaresque novel really happened; only the presence in the various cases of Joe Ready and later Jimmy Cotton, have been added by the author–involves a character who philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand, in one of her more abstruse moments, termed “the perfect man,” according to her Objectivist philosophy. Joe Ready’s version of the story kicks a lot of dust into Rand’s “philosophy,” as well as more or less explaining his own; at least with regard to kidnapers!
Jimmy Cotton is back to his own voice explaining just how he and Joe “threw in together” at that very particular time in 1970, and with that dénouement, Bob Truluck gives us, the readers and lovers of modern noir, a new high point in the storyteller’s art, weaving a series of tales from three eras into a seamless blending of what, indeed, turns out to be The Art of Redemption.
“Bob Truluck’s new novel, The Art of Redemption, is a terrific tale, old-fashioned crime stories from a modern perspective. Tons of slimy gunsels full of sassy patter and schemes of grandeur. The stories never falter of fail, but instead tantalize the reader into a fine, full reading experience.” —James Crumley
“*Starred Review* Don’t be fooled into thinking that Truluck’s third novel is yet another nostalgic salute to the pulp era: one more simile-strewn re-creation of the tough-talking Black Mask gang’s pennies-a-word, rat-a-tat prose. Yes, there are plenty of gats and gunsels in these pages, but Truluck is no imitator. Take the setup: a private eye, Jimmy Cotton, visits his ninetysomething partner and mentor, Joe Ready, on Joe’s deathbed. Joe wants to hear all his old stories, the ones he told Jimmy 30 years ago, the ones that drew the young Jimmy, then a disillusioned hippie, into the business of tracking kidnappers and their victims. And so it goes: Jimmy, speaking in Joe’s voice, tells Joe the story of his own life: encounters with Ma Barker, the Lindbergh kidnappers, and Meyer Lansky, among others. The content is pure 1930s, but the pulpers’ narrative structure of choice didn’t employ voices within voices within voices. The dialogue, too, may start out sounding like it’s straight from the pages of Black Mask, but then you realize that Truluck has substituted a chord here and flatted a few dozen fifths there, like Thelonius Monk playing “April in Paris.” And there’s an edge to Joe Ready that you wouldn’t find in a pulp hero, a sense that he’s fooling himself about half the time. So do we all, of course, but we don’t have Jimmy there at the end to tell us our own stories the way we want to hear them. Think about that: bittersweet is not a flavor one associates with the hard-boiled style, but Truluck makes it taste just right.” —Bill Ott, Booklist
“The notoriously wild Truluck (Street Level) out-wilds himself with Joe Ready, a 98-year-old cop turned PI turned vigilante, and Ready’s younger partner, Jimmy Cotton. Ready and Cotton met when Ready was already old and supposedly retired, and Cotton was a young man scarred and scared by the 1970 shootings at Kent State. The two formed a relationship around Cotton’s desire to soak up Ready’s tall tales, liquor and dope. Years later, the tables are turned and Cotton must recount Ready’s exploits to entertain the dying old man, even though he’s pretty sure Ready was never actually mixed up with Machine Gun Kelly, Meyer Lansky, tough guys in Cuba, kidnappings and Ready’s perennial nemesis, Pearlie Friedman. Turns out the tales are true, Ready’s not really retired and Cotton’s being seduced—or drafted—into Ready’s world. Truluck’s pulpy prose is spot on, and his vision and voice remain among the most original in a genre too often reduced to formula.” —Publishers Weekly
“Bob Truluck’s Joe Ready walked the edge of the law–on both sides–for 40 years, and he tells us his story through the eyes of a smart, drop-out kid named Jimmy Cotton who’s looking for something or someone to believe in as Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in May 1970 sets off the chain of campus demonstrations that culminates with the Kent State massacre, where Jimmy himself almost bought the farm.
The events that unfold are historically impeccable–Joe Ready was THERE–taking down Machine Gun Kelly for a voice on the phone; double-crossing Cuba’s dictator Batista and escaping the island, cracking wise to his sometime mentor, Meyer Lansky: but by the time the gunsmoke has drifted away, Joe Ready was always gone, too.
Truluck’s dialog is unlike any I’ve ever read–BLACK MASK patter mixed with the author’s own invented neo-noir 1930’s jive. At times I’d laugh out loud–PAGES further into the story–it having taken that long, in the rush of the tale, to realize that I’d been HAD, taken in by a phrase or description I’d never seen before, but one that sounded absolutely right.
This is wonderful writing. You’re in for a treat with The Art of Redemption.” —Kent Anderson, author of Sympathy for the Devil and Night Dogs