BOOKS: King Suckerman

George P. Pelecanos
King Suckerman
Little, Brown

N ot just filled to the brim with pimps, players, and private eyes, King Suckerman is a pulp novel that practically drips bong water. Indeed, by using a blaxploitation film as its central point of contrast, this book should have been dope, but the pedantic narrative bludgeons the reader with such familiar morals as "crime doesn't pay" and "life isn't like the movies"--to less than full effect. The characters are lured by movie hype into checking out King Suckerman, "the new film about the pimp," but they go home disappointed after the titular mack has turned into a brutal and ugly anti-Superfly who ends up in prison with a terminal case of syphilis.

This disillusionment with baadasssss life hardly registers as heavy, but the novel does deliver a head-spinning cast of players. In the course of a basketball game, a drug run, and a murder, the male characters parade a wealth of macho stereotypes but divide rather too cleanly into good and bad crews: The good guys, albeit worthy of playerdom, dig marijuana and het monogamy; the bad guys are into coke and (gasp!) sodomy. At least the author gives these quirky fellows some musical tastes to match. The Rastafarian/Nation of Islam follower/record-store employee listens to Curtis Mayfield while obsessively filing Jimi Hendrix under "soul" rather than "rock." The white country hicks listen to BTO, natch, while a Greek Adonis flirts with a big-breasted Asian woman by bandying about Big Star. As the plot comes to its predictable close with warm-fuzzy message intact, one mourns the potentially kickass mix of narcissism and narcotics that King Suckerman might have been.

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