Friday, June 2, 2017
No Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker
This story of 31-year-old Max Dembo, who is released from prison after eight years and never wants to return, but cannot tolerate the rules, regulations, and boredom of straight life and returns to crime is filled with crude, coarse scenes, and language so raw, it must have curled the hair of readers five decades ago. (Of course, similar scenes and language are now accepted entertainment on cable TV.)
Max, who spent a good part of his life behind bars, from reform school, to county jails, to the California prison system, is released at the beginning of the book and he vows never to return. It is 1964 and he is going home to Los Angeles determined to get a job and live a straight life. But his plans have big flaws. Max does not know how to live a straight life. The only life he knows is crime, and the only people he knows are criminals. He finds it impossible to straddle the straight world and the underworld and after a short struggle, gives up and turns back to crime. He regrets not being able to turn his life around, yet he craves action and enjoys the outlaw life.
No Beast So Fierce starts off hard. The prison situation is hard, and the language of the men inside is hard. Once out and reverting back to his old ways, the story meanders a bit and introduces too many petty thieves, drunks and junkies. But Bunker’s purpose is clear, he is sticking the readers face into the hard realities of these character’s lives – the crummy living conditions, the edginess and violence around them, the day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence. And he knows what he is talking about. Bunker spent time in reform schools and state prisons until he straightened himself out. He began reading and then writing. Every page has the odor of reality on it. This man knew what he was talking about.
Once Max gets to work robbing, the book picks up speed. He goes from a supermarket stick up, to bank robbery to a major jewelry heist. And when things start to go wrong, they really go wrong for Max, and the story flies to its conclusion.
No Beast So Fierce, like other Bunker novels, is a fast read, but a gritty, grubby one, which will leave you feeling like you need to go outside, breathe the fresh air, and thank your lucky stars you are not in Max Dembo’s world (at least, I hope you are not).
Edward Bunker was born in 1933 in Los Angeles. He died in 2005 in Burbank, California.
(To see my review of Bunker's novel Dog Eat Dog. click here.)
(For more posts on books this week, check out Todd Mason’s blog.)