Stahl broke it wide open with his debut book, Permanent Midnight. A memoir about his descent into drug addiction, those pages grabbed you tightly with a tale that mixed humor and subversion. The prose borrowed from Hunter Thompson and a bit of Bukowski, but the voice was all Jerry's.
The author would never again rise to that height.
Certainly in his most recent book, the tale of a down-and-out ex-cop who stumbles across Josef Mengele in San Quentin prison, he doesn't come close. Yes, that's the story here.
While Stahl may have done it justice years ago in the venomous prose days of Permanent Midnight, here it wanders, wiggles, and goes nowhere.
There is no sense of flow. It's as if every word has been squeezed out, and
the result is a story that is forced and a narrative with no real pulse. Manny
Rupert takes an undercover job at San Quentin to ascertain if the identity of an
elderly inmate belongs to the horrific Nazi psychopath Mengele. How he ended up in San Quentin in the first place is never addressed
- and yes, this is a work of fiction - but the idea of Dr. Death in prison blues is so far-fetched that you're almost unwilling to allow any of the story to unfold.
The author still turns a sweet phrase. A closing paragraph reads,
"For all we know, after creating the universe, God went into a fentanyl-and-gin blackout, saw the Holocaust when He came to and wanted to claw His eyes out. Like Oedipus." Dark and grim and full of the hysterical beauty that informed his first book. But these lines are too infrequent, and if you're looking for another dose of heavy Stahlism ala
Permanent Midnight, you won't find it here.