Reviewed by Daniel James Sundahl
It could become a film noir but the script would need to be a departure from the novel, remade into a much tauter, no-nonsense rapid-fire dialogue between characters resplendent in their gritty glory.
It would help to have hardboiled masters at hand like Raymond Chandler and tough guys like Bogart and Mitchum. Wrath of the Dixie Mafia promises a world of brass knuckles and tough guys and dames. What’s missing is Philip Marlowe’s patter: “‘Okay Marlowe,’ I said to myself, ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough—like putting your pants on.’”
Point being: Johnny Morocco is more a poseur than not and the novel’s narrator is equally a poseur. In other words, both affect an attitude, a kind of stage draping of pretend. One reads and reads and hopes for a moment that the narrator would write, simply, “Big Town was a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in,” or “Rachel gave him a smile he could feel in his hip pocket.” Neither Johnny Morocco nor the narrator own enough rude wit, a disgust for sham, or a contempt for pettiness.
The novel’s style is flat and clichéd: “Saturday morning Johnny rose at six like he always did. He had no real place to go or anything to do, but his internal alarm clock said it was time to get up. After talking to Rachel the night before, he stayed at the Emerald bar a little longer than usual. He drank a little more than usual and this morning, he felt it a little more than usual. His mouth tasted like the entire Russian Army had marched through it with muddy boots.”
It’s “ham-handed” and thus lacking great one liners; if Jack Reacher were in the audience, well, he’d likely get up and go to a small diner where the coffee refills are endless—hot and black.
And it’s not that the tough guy genre has become moldy with disuse or replaced by plucky librarians. Dave Robicheaux continues to fight his battles, haunted soul that he is. Which may be the problem with Sinor’s character Johnny Morocco: his heart has not been bruised enough to become bleak as tundra. Chandler writes like a slumming angel, as does Ross MacDonald. Perhaps there are not enough men with guns coming through the door and, hence, there’s a lack of genuine suspense.
One can go on: For Harry Bosch, hero, maverick, nighthawk, another body dumped along Mulholland will always become something more than a statistic. For Connolly, though, the grim and grisly are emotionally balanced with dark humor.
Sinor’s Wrath of the Dixie Mafia is a debut but not impressive. A reader might hope for a complex and mesmerizing story, but whatever edges the book owns are not sharp. The car outside the pool hall in Big Town is not running and thus is no “get-away.”
The author’s biographical blurb offers the argument that Sinor is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. A rank achieved after first enlisting as a Private. The resumé following itemizes a repertoire including extensive screenwriting and now teaching screenwriting at the University of Western Florida. There are some screenwriting credits, action dramas from 1997 including Dead Men Can’t Dance, which, according to some reviews, was “painful.” Better to go outside and paint the house, which has more accuracy than the movie.
Fact-checking, therefore, leads to some suspicion or curiosity that Mr. Sinor’s biography may be a bit off. There have been internet inquiries attempting to validate Mr. Sinor’s resumé. Some have been challenging his veracity. Mr. Sinor indicates that he is “known” for his work on Transformers, which came out in 2007. He’s listed but under the rubric “Other Crew” and thus “credited,” but so is a dog trainer and so are three dozen production assistants, which might be another name for “intern.”
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