When mainstream media “discovers” some sort of sub-culture and absorbs it for story ideas, it never comes out right. You know like when Law & Order decides to set a murder in a punk rock “club” it always just comes across as phony where the music isn’t even real punk rock and they take some clean cut actors and put a phony nose ring on ’em or something. The writers just cop the basic elements of the culture and make it non-threatening so their square audience doesn’t get too turned off.
On the other side of the coin, media that contains real punk rock is almost exclusively only about the punk rock. A punk movie is either going to be a documentary about a real band or a fictional account of some made up wanna be band that can’t catch a break. There isn’t a lot of real genre fiction that solidly takes place in the punk world. The only real example of a film that does that I can think of is the punk sci-fi film Repo Man.
Then here comes Johnny Ostentatious, positioning himself as the world’s first punk mystery novelist. To be honest, I know Johnny and he’s the real deal, as punk rock as they come. He’s written and published two punk mysteries. One I haven’t read: Ian Hahn: The Olfactory Empath. And one I have, of course.
Noir Reunion is not set entirely, nor even primarily, within the world of punk rock. Only one member of the ersatz high school reunion is even in a band, appropriately called Farting Out a Fetus. The real punk aspect of the book is in just imbued in its overall tone. The plot concerns four friends from high school–two social outcasts and two semi-popular kids–who stumble across a pile of money that they decide to hide and divvy up 20 years later.
However, like a good noir thriller the plot is secondary to seeing how these characters have changed over the years and how that has affected their relationship to each other, which is the real strength of Johnny’s writing. He really nails them down both when they’re teenagers and when they’re adults. As someone who’s a bit of a social misfit himself (that’s putting it nicely), I’m pretty attuned to when a writer is faking it and when he understands people who have obscure interests and oddball personalities. Which is really what punk is all about: Letting those quirky personality traits all hang out.
But it’s also about poking fun at the mainstream, which Johnny does with great gusto. Instead of building a noir tone through typical hardboiled, Chandler-esque descriptions, Johnny uses sarcastic cracks at popular culture. For example: “In the three years Chase worked here, he couldn’t remember one time his boss had addressed him without using the word moron. Maybe his boss’s behavior was a fluke, like Tom Hanks starring in a good movie.” You know, I like Tom Hanks as an actor, but it’s still a funny line.
I do hope, though, that all this talk abut “punk rock” doesn’t turn off people not into the genre from checking out this engaging thriller. As far as the music goes, I don’t even particularly like punk. I was always more into industrial music like Ministry or shoegazer stuff like Lush, where the sentiments are similar, but I don’t really like that standard punk song structure. Punk is in the attitude and Noir Reunion is crammed full of it.Buy Noir Reunion on Amazon.com!