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Pain Killers: A Novel [Hardcover]

Jerry Stahl
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Feb. 23 2009

“Often brilliant, always compelling.” — Pittsburgh Tribune

From acclaimed and controversial author Jerry Stahl comes one of the most vividly subversive, savagely funny, explosive novels yet unleashed in our tender century. Pain Killers is a violent and mind-wrenching masterpiece in the Gonzo Noir style that has earned Jerry Stahl his legion of avid fans. For those who enjoy the works of Chuck Palahniuk, Terry Southern, and Hunter S Thompson—as well as Stahl’s own Permanent Midnight, I Fatty, Perv–A Love Story, and Plainclothes NakedPain Killers is sure to please.


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Dig it: Perv--A Love Story is a beautifully wrought and twisted ode to freaks, beatniks, hopheads, and the wild-assed and strange everywhere. Jerry Stahl is the American hipster bard. (James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential and My Dark Places)

“From the opening gut punch this book had me laughing and turning pages. Jerry Stahl is Thomas Berger’s wicked stepson and his new novel is a tour de force.” (Tom Franklin, author of Smonk, Hell at the Breech, and Poachers)

From the Back Cover

From the acclaimed and controversial author of Permanent Midnight comes one of the most vividly subversive, savagely funny, and explosive novels yet unleashed in our tender century. Pain Killers is a violent and mind-wrenching masterpiece in the gonzo noir style that has earned Jerry Stahl his legion of avid fans.

Down-and-out ex-cop and not-quite-reformed addict Manny Rupert accepts a job going undercover to find out if an old man locked up in a California prison is who he claims to be: the despicable—and allegedly dead—Josef Mengele, aka the Angel of Death. What if, instead of drowning thirty years ago, the sadistic legend whose Auschwitz crimes still horrify faked his own death and is now locked up in San Quentin, ranting and bitter about being denied the adulation he craves for his contribution to keeping the Master Race pure—if no longer masterful?

After accidentally reuniting with ex-wife and love of his life, Tina, at San Quentin—they first met at the crime scene where Tina murdered her first husband with Drano-laced Lucky Charms—Manny spends a bad night imbibing boxed wine and questionable World War One morphine, hunched over a trove of photos showing live genital dissections that plant him in the middle of a conspiracy involving genocide, drugs, eugenics, human experiments, and America's secret history of collusion with German believers in Nordic superiority.

Manny's quest sends him careening from one extreme of apocalypse-adjacent reality to the other: from SS-inked Jewish shotcallers to meth-crazed virgin hookers, from Mexican gangbangers to Big Pharma–financed prison research to an animal shelter that gasses more than stray dogs and cats . . .

Pain Killers captures one man's struggle against a perverse and demented scheme of global proportions, in a literary tour de force as outrageous, compelling, and dangerous as history itself. Not for the faint of heart, the novel hurtles readers into a disturbing, original, and alarmingly real world filled with some of the kinkiest sex, most horrific violence, and screaming wit ever found on the page—proving yet again that Stahl is, as The New Yorker described him, "a better-than-Burroughs virtuoso."


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5.0 out of 5 stars HUMOR OF THE DARKEST KIND March 14 2009
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Do you believe that a horrific, absurd thriller can't also be humorous? If so, prepare to be corrected when you pick up a copy of Pain Killers. It is, at times, laugh out loud funny.

Stahl is a phenomenon, the fellow has been dubbed "a better than Burroughs virtuoso." I'll not deliberate whether that's true or not - simply want to illustrate Stahl's genre (Permanent Midnight; I, Fatty). But then, describing his writing isn't an easy task - he's a total original, an author who will leave you anguished, amazed, and chuckling.

How's this for a scenario: sick Nazi Joseph Mengele is still alive and at the ripe old age of 97 is in San Quentin continuing his experiments on the living? He wants his due recognition, and is determined to prove to the world that he is a genius.

Former cop and addict Manny Rupert is more than down on his luck - he's out of it and about to be evicted from his house. He's approached by a very odd man (who approaches by breaking into Rupert's house). He wants to hire Rupert to go undercover in San Quentin and find out whether Mengele is really Mengele or just some poor delusional soul who couldn't come up with a more attractive identity.

Well, what's a guy to do? It's the only job offer he has and it's either take it or wind up living on the streets. He's given a fake "state certificate, proof of status as a licensed drug and alcohol counselor" and a diploma from Steinhelm Life-Skills Institute. His first stop at San Quentin? The gift shop that boasts a variety of prison oriented wares, must-haves such as paddles and handcuffs.

Perhaps his biggest surprise is running into his ex-wife, Tina, his great love. (They met after Tina murdered her first husband with Drano-laced Lucky Charms). Who can figure male-female attraction?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  44 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horrific. Funny. Totally irreverant. March 4 2009
By Denise Crawford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In a style similar to Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey, Stahl takes us on a roller coaster ride into San Quentin prison with ex cop Manny Rubert where he is working uncover to prove that one of the prisoners is indeed Josef Mengele, the supposed dead Nazi Angel of Death.

A recovering polydrug addict, Manny (who is also Jewish) is pretending to lead a drug addiction recovery group that includes Mengele. Just why was he hired for this operation, and what do those in charge actually want him to do with the proof that Mengele lives? And what will they actually do with Mengele? Bring him to trial? Kill him in prison? What does Mengele deserve once he's revealed as the monster of the Holocaust? Was he a brilliant scientist or an evil instrument of death?

These questions and the ensuing encounters with a score of bizarre characters take the reader on a trip through the past and into the present with a resounding jolt. The revelations of what Mengele did in the death camps are not particularly new, but the excuses and reasoning that he offers to his audience on a hair raising van excursion, are both shocking and repellant.

I have never read a book quite like this and found it difficult to write a review of it. I can't honestly say I "liked" it, but wow, what an incredible tale this author weaves. The motley crew of associates and characters in the novel look like a circus freak show. The chapter titles read like a sociopathic menu - nothing is left untouched from drugs, sex and torture to animal -- human organ transplants and big pharma conspiracies. Each page brought a new astonishment - what imagination and what a deviant mind this ingeniously demented author has! The style made me zip through the pages, turning them to see what in the world would be offered up for my digestion on the next one.
It was quite a book - took me from laugh out loud to the brink of nausea.

If you like to step out of your comfort zone and be transported into the strangest prison book you've ever read - take a chance. I guarantee you'll spend most of your reading time with your mouth hanging open and your brain forming the word -- WHAT!?!?!?!?
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Promising Book That Descends into Hell March 19 2009
By Geoffrey Kleinman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I want to like Pain Killers, I really do. Jerry Stahl's style is dark, sharp, caustic and amusing and in Pain Killers he flashes some moments of brilliance. Unfortunately those high moments are eclipsed by a near fetish obsession with the politics of the Holocaust and most specifically Josef Mengele.

With a solid set up, extraordinarily strong main character and pitch perfect first act Pain Killers seems like it could be an absolute break out book. The book takes an extreme left turn about mid way through that completely derails the initial momentum and narrative. Stahl seemed to have a choice, either follow the arch of Manny Rupert or go for Mengele. He chose the latter and the final act of the book is so absurd and ridiculous that it decimates everything before it.

Stahl's writing peaks early on with descriptions that leap off the page, but as the book goes on he loses touch with the world he's created in order to revisit the theme of the politics of the Holocaust and how maybe human experiments aren't such a 'bad' thing. To most this theme will be distasteful enough to completely skip this book, I found it pretty hard to stomach. The real audience for this book are Stahl fans, perhaps people who've already read Plainclothes Naked, otherwise readers looking for something edgy would do much better with Chuck Palahniuk or Bret Easton Ellis.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark, sick, yet funny in a demented way April 19 2009
By Ravenskya - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I'm re-writing because I've decided that my first review wasn't exactly clear:

This is probably not a book that I would have selected on my own - having hated the movie "Permanent Midnight." In the end it was an enjoyable read - if not a bit preposterous.

The Good Guy - Manny Rupert: an Ex-cop, on again off again junkie with a bad liver, who married a woman he met after she killed her husband and he responded to the police call. He's down on his luck, and not doing himself much good - then a strange old Jewish man shows up in his house, beats him with a walker and hires him to go undercover in San Quentin

The Good Girl - Manny's ex-wife, soon to be ex-ex-wife he hopes, is a neurotic bulimic on again off again junkie/prostitute/opportunist. Her morality is questionable but somewhere under all that sex and junk - there's a heart of gold (at least we're told)

The Bad Guys - Oh there are so many of them, but to keep from giving too much away I'll only list our target, the 90 year old blond German man in San Quentin who swears that he's Dr. Joseph Mengele (Nazi Death Camp Doctor at Auschwitz).

So, crazy Jewish man with walker hires Rupert to go undercover as a drug councilor at San Quentin to determine if the crazy old German actually IS Mengele. Things go bad quickly as Rupert's ex-wife shows up with an Aryan Brotherhood leader who also happens to be Jewish. The people on Rupert's side might actually be more dangerous then the convicts.

The writing is verbally simplistic, a lot of people rant and rave about how grotesque this is - but as a horror fan, I've got to say - it's not that bad. Most of the disgusting parts are simply people recounting what Mengele had done - which IS gross, but it's not extremely explicit in that respect. There is a lot of sex, drugs, racial slurs, anti-government garbage, and a whole lot of the German guy arguing about the good he did in the death camps - like slaughtering babies to cure cancer... that part gets old fast.

To be honest, this isn't the best or worse book I've read. The characters are all fairly despicable in one way or another and the plot only holds together loosely. At times you will find yourself shaking your head trying to figure out just how you're supposed to buy all of what's being sold to you here. If you are looking for something comparable - try Tim Dorsey- ADHD writing, spastic plot, and a lot of material to make your average reader cringe.

Rated R - Do not hand to the kiddies.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Outrageous and absurd, but loses it's charm due to lack of wit. Feb. 22 2012
By Peace Daddy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I'm a little late reviewing this book, but I thought I'd drop my two cents in the mix. This is my first experience with any of Jerry Stahl's work, and I have to say it's probably going to be my last.
Pain Killers starts out interesting and readable, albeit twisted and sadistic. As the book goes along, it gets more absurd and in less of a good way. In that respect, the book loses it's "charm." I was able to finish it, but in the end it was forgettable for its over-the-top antics with a lack of good wit to match. Not my cup of tea.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars July 14 2010
By missed - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I've been trying to think of what to write for this review for almost two weeks now. I liked Pain Killers, but I thought it could have been better, perhaps more noirish, perhaps more weird like Ellis' Crooked Little Vein, which is also a detective story with some freakish element (here, it's Mengele still being alive, but in prison).

Stahl writes extremely well, but for this type of story, a detective story with a near femme fatale and just one weird thing happening after another, he just doesn't hit the mark. I get the impression, reading this novel, that he wanted to go all the way, be weird, wild and crazy, but just didn't do it for some reason.

While an interesting read (I read it from beginning to end, that's a good sign), it just wasn't what I'd hoped it would be.
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