13 July 2010

Football noir

The Jook is the story of an ex-NFL superstar named Zelmont Raines who has partied away his fortune and is reduced to playing American football in Europe. When the league creates a new franchise in his hometown of LA, "Zee" gives it one last shot and tries out for the team, hoping to make a comeback. Burdened by debt, legal hassles, and an insatiable appetite for pussy and crack cocaine, Raines is the classic doomed noir protagonist. When he gets involved with a cunning and ruthless femme fatale and her absurd heist scheme, it's only a matter of time before his world comes crashing down. Los Angeles writer Gary Phillips puts us right in the middle of the Southland's mean streets, peopling the novel with local hoods, imported gangsters, and big money wheeler-dealers. You can't have an LA story without dreamers and wannabes, as that city, more than any other, sells glitz, glamor, and the high life to countless hopefuls. No matter how many faded stars and failed big shots litter the streets, there are ten to take their place in the great, grasping swarm of climbers that give the city its most distinctive characteristic. Mr. Phillips lays bare not only the moral hypocrisy and phoniness of professional sports, but makes us think about the corrosive effect these million-dollar TV fantasies have on communities and their youngsters in particular. It's a hot, trashy read, with foul mouths and sordid sex, and it's a smart, gripping tale of survival and redemption as well. The Jook is part of PM Press' Switchblade crime fiction imprint. "Jook" is an alternate spelling of "juke," which means not only to dance and party ("juke joint", "jukebox"), but to cut and maneuver on the football field in order to get past a defender and make a play. WordMan™ thought it was a pretty clever title.

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