Oh good god. Oh my my. That Mike Monson is one sick puppy. I mean that in the best possible way. I’ve had the privilege to read several of Mike Monson’s books, including his novella The Scent of New Death, his novel Tussinland, and his short fiction collection, Criminal Love and Other Stories. Though I really enjoyed the others, What Happens in Reno became my favorite of Monson’s books from the first page.
What Happens in Reno is pulp noir at its absolute darkest, and most hilarious, level. One of the things Mike Monson does best is writing books that have absolutely no redeemable characters, yet compel you to keep reading anyway. Writing instructors usually tell you that’s impossible. Clearly, they haven’t read Mike Monson.
In What Happens in Reno, Monson’s protagonist, Matt Hodges, is no exception. The book opens with Matt puking up his Grand Slam breakfast all over the side of his car, then sleeping it off in the car’s back seat in the Denny’s parking lot. Hodges’ closest thing to an ally is a cheating wife that hates his guts, though perhaps not as bad as he hates himself. These details round out his most redeemable qualities, if you can believe that.
The tale that follows Hodges’ puke sesh has adultery, betrayal, gambling addiction, and murder. There’s not a single character with so much as an ounce of integrity throughout. Yet I found myself rooting for Matt Hodges, even as I suspected that things could never work out for him.
I laughed so hard I had tears streaming down my face at certain points in What Happens in Reno. I had to put the book down repeatedly to wrap my head around the sheer absurdity of what I’d just read. In a good way, of course.
Monson doesn’t ever, even once, provide the reader with so much as an ounce of hope in this twisted tale. Instead, he puts on an epic spectacle that will make you want to look away early and often. But you won’t.
If you want to find out what does, indeed, happen in Reno, you have two choices. Either read the book, or head on out to “The Biggest Little City in the World” and flush yourself down the toilet first-hand. Option one would, no doubt, be better for your health.
[Michael Pool’s latest novel, Texas Two Step, is also out now from Down and Out Books]