Did you read SHORTCUT MAN by p.g. sturges? That worthy title introduced Dick Henry, an ex-LAPD cop who was drummed out of the force because of the righteous shooting of a member of a protected class, circa 21st-century USA. Henry is a shortcut man, a part vigilante-for-hire, part unlicensed PI --- the guy you call when you realize that the justice system is neither and that you need to take a shortcut to obtain a just result. Henry is excellent at what he does, and has the ability to determine when a certain amount of finesse is required and when a certain degree of violence is necessary. TRIBULATIONS OF THE SHORTCUT MAN is sturges’s sophomore effort, one that exponentially outclasses his extremely noteworthy debut.
"TRIBULATIONS OF THE SHORTCUT MAN has it all: interesting and unforgettable characters, slow cars and fast women, violence, drugs, and great turns of phrase, both borrowed (and properly credited, every single time) and original."
If you are looking for literary comparisons, sturges’s writing is reminiscent of Elmore Leonard with a touch of a sedated, linear Tim Dorsey. One senses that Henry is shot through with a bit of roiling insanity that he is able to keep in check --- usually and just barely --- but that he is able to tap into when he requires a solution to an apparently insurmountable problem. Not all of his clients have such problems, of course. For example, the veterinary clinic plagued by the incense cart that sets up shop in front of its doors is rather handily, if extra-legally, disposed of in the book’s opening pages.
But there are some problems that are a bit more difficult, such as the judge who has to turn over a beloved, rare and extremely expensive painting to his ex-wife under the terms of their divorce decree. Henry has a solution, albeit an expensive one. Then there is the pole dancer whose septuagenarian and extremely wealthy boyfriend suddenly goes off the radar, only to turn up dead and married (in that order) as part of a plot to provide a much-needed cash injection to a cable television series star and her husband, a reality TV judge (yes, the same one with the painting problem), who suddenly find themselves broke. Henry doesn’t feel conflicted at all in helping the pole dancer --- she has much bigger, uh, eyes than does the judge --- but the fix is in, from the marriage license to the coroner’s report.
What is Henry to do in order to ensure that justice is done? The answer is by turns horrific, ingenious and hilarious.
There are some other cases along the way --- Henry helps a librarian and assists a former girlfriend whose house is in the way of a new, upscale residential development --- but the one that he can’t seem to crack is the hardness of the heart of Kiyoko, his girlfriend, who kicks him to the curb at the beginning of the book.
TRIBULATIONS OF THE SHORTCUT MAN has it all: interesting and unforgettable characters, slow cars and fast women, violence, drugs, and great turns of phrase, both borrowed (and properly credited, every single time) and original. And sturges also includes chapter titles that read as if they are the opening lines to off-color jokes that sound familiar yet you’ve forgotten. It’s a fast read with much substance. Don’t miss it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 27, 2012