Friday, November 16, 2007

By Edward Bunker

Eddie Bunker was a crime writer who knew crime: he grew up in the California criminal system and was a professional thief. That experience, plus twenty years of labor as a professional writer, gives Dog Eat Dog a brutal realism that is seldom found in fiction.

The novel is about three jailhouse buddies. Deisel is a tough hoodlum who works for a low-level mobster while keeping a middle-class lifestyle with his wife and kid. Mad Dog is a violent, paranoid nutcase with a cocaine habit. Troy is the product of a prosperous, upper-class family where madness and brutality was the norm. Newly released from prison he plans to rally his buddies and cut a swath through the underworld.

Dog Eat Dog follows these hoodlums through their lives of crime: drug-binges and violent rages, family life and crime for hire, high-priced hookers and the LA night-life. Troy’s gang progresses from robbing drug-dealers to acting as hired guns for a Mexican drug-lord. The uncontrolled nature of a life of crime propels the story to a brutal and bloody climax.

California’s new “three-strikes” law hangs over the heads of these men. They are acutely aware that any crime: from check fraud to armed robbery, means a life sentence. The life of these criminals forms a backdrop for their constant self-justification and commentary on prison. They all are products of broken homes and jail. Each proclaims that they learned their toughness as a survival mechanism in reform schools and prison. Troy’s sudden arrival in 1990s America lets him see a society in free-fall that seems normal to the rest of us. They also uniformly blame society’s anger on what they see as the real problem: out-of-control African-Americans. In the eyes of Troy, Deisel, and Mad Dog black teenagers with AK-47s are ruining life for decent, hard-working crooks.

While Bunker makes pointed commentary on society through he eyes of Troy, he is too aware of how criminals build a wall of BS around their selfish and destructive lives. While loudly proclaiming their disdain for the senseless harshness of the three-strikes law, Troy and his pals have no intention of being anything but violent criminals. They praise the open, money driven world of Mexican prison as better for a prisoner’s rehabilitation, all the while they are planning a ruthlessly violent crime in a drug-lord’s cell. Troy’s self-pitying litany of “what-did-I-do-wrong” is a brutal impeachment of a violent man.

Before the story has run its course, everything is turned upside down. Make no mistake, each of these men believe that they have some moral limit: Troy doesn’t see himself as a killer, Deisel only wants to provide for his family, Mad Dog is, well…, Mad Dog is loyal. But Bunker doesn’t shy away from showing that it isn’t just broken families or prison that corrode a man’s soul, but also his choice to commit himself to the treacherous world of crime.

Bunker’s story may be too raw for some, but it is a fascinating insight into the underworld from a man who had seen it from both sides. Dog Eat Dog is also a compelling thriller with edge-of-your-seat twists and turns. After the action is done, it will leave you wondering just how we’re supposed to deal with the criminals our society produces.

-Dave Hardy


Charles Gramlich said...

I've not heard of this. Is Bunker a new writer? Certainly sounds pulpish.

Dave Hardy said...

Actually Bunker is an old author. he straightened up and started writing (not exactly in that order) inthe early '70s. He appeared as Mr. Blue in "Reservoir Dogs".

I'd put bunker in the hard-boiled/noir style. One of the best, altough he wrote realtively few novels.