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Noir-ish razzle-dazzle in Moore’s ‘Razzmatazz’

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Full disclosure: I’m in the bag for Christopher Moore.

From the first time I read one of his books – my entry point was, as it was for so many others, the exquisite 2002 novel “Lamb” – I knew that this was an author who would resonate with me. Wildly funny, incredibly smart and unapologetically crass, Moore’s work clicked with me in a way that few authors ever had or ever would.

Seriously – think about how rare it is for a book to make you genuinely laugh out loud multiple times in the course of reading it. Moore does that for me EVERY TIME. His work is funny and weird with an at-times shockingly sharp satiric edge.

The tradition continues with “Razzmatazz” (William Morrow, $28.99), a sequel to 2018’s “Noir.” These books both celebrate and deconstruct the trope of the hard-boiled detective, starring a gentleman who consistently finds himself stumbling into situations that are both far beyond his ken and yet somehow suited to his particular set of skills.

It’s a madcap romp through post-WWII San Francisco, a comedic adventure wherein Moore explores the fundamental absurdities of the human condition. The real(ish) and surreal are practically interchangeable here, with ridiculous characters dealing with both the actions of their fellow man and influences that are far beyond mere humanity.

It gets weird, is what I’m saying.

Oh, and mixed in with all the lunacy is a surprising depth of detail regarding that particular time and place. Moore takes plenty of liberties, but the fundamental truth is there. They say you have to learn the rules to break them; well, Moore learned the landscape so he could alter it.

Sammy Teffin is living his typically chaotic life. He’s still tending bar at Sal’s and he’s still madly in love with his girlfriend Stilton, whom he calls “the Cheese” to everyone except her. He’s still hanging out with his motley crew of buddies at the local all-night diner – soft-hearted bouncer Thelonius “Lone” Jones, cabbie who won’t drive Milo, second-generation Chinese-American hustler Jimmy “Moo Shoes” Shu – and generally trying to improve his lot.

But it’s never easy for Sammy.

Before long, our hero is swept up into multiple scenarios where he, for reasons even he doesn’t fully understand, is expected to solve some problems. Milo and Doris from the diner are in love, even though she’s married to an ill-tempered stevedore. Jimmy’s Uncle Ho wants Sammy to recover some sort of ancient dragon statue in order to regain control of his various illegal rackets. A high-powered lawyer thinks Sammy can track down the guy’s daughter. Brothel owner Mabel believes Sammy can help her avoid the law in order to throw a Christmas party at a surprising location. And there’s someone out there murdering people for the “crime” of dressing like the opposite sex and the SFPD doesn’t seem to care.

Oh, and Stilton is putting her wartime Rosie Riveter skills to work on a secret project that might wind up being the weirdest part of all – particularly when we find out just who all is involved.

All Sammy wants to do is tend bar, hang out with his pals and engage in some of the old razzmatazz with his stunning ladyfriend. Instead, he is being pulled in a dozen different directions, drawn into situations whose stakes are far too high to be entrusted to a lug like him. But here’s the thing – Sammy might be a lug, but he’s a lug who has proven surprisingly adept at helping those closest to him … no matter how bizarre the help required might be.

“Razzmatazz” is marked with the same sort of coarse charm that permeates all of Moore’s books. Sammy and his cohort are colorfully foul-mouthed and cheerfully unsavory; the circles they run in are the ones that your mother warned you about (or at least, she would’ve if you had been born yet). Reluctant heroism doesn’t always click, but when said hero is someone like Sammy Two-Toes, well … it clicks.

Now, I’ve made multiple mentions of how funny this book is, but it bears repeating. I don’t know that I’ve ever read anyone who is equally capable of crafting situational humor and dialogue-driven humor as Christopher Moore. Writing a good comic novel is incredibly difficult, and here’s Moore doing it over and over again, maintaining a consistent spirit of irreverence even as his subjects and settings careen all over the map.

(Those wild shifts take place even within the pages of “Razzmatazz” itself, with an internally-relayed story about Uncle Ho’s arrival in America in the early 20th century – one that is both hilarious and rather insightful about the context of the Chinese immigrant experience at that time.)

It should be noted here that this book is a sequel, and as such, the reader will definitely benefit from reading “Noir” first. I don’t believe it is strictly necessary – “Razzmatazz” largely stands alone, in my opinion – but there are some references and allusions and assumed familiarities that will make more sense within the context of the first book.

“Razzmatazz” is typical Moore, packed with humor and heart, all of it reflected through genre deconstruction and a fierce affection for its setting. There’s a chaos at play throughout – there’s a LOT going on – yet Moore handles it deftly, resulting in a book whose myriad fractured storylines ultimately come together in a delightfully droll denouement.

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 May 2022 11:58

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