Sunday, April 30, 2017
Lucky Supreme: A Novel of Many Crimes by Jeff Johnson - Book Review
Lucky Supreme: A Novel of Many Crimes (A Darby Holland Crime Novel) by Jeff Johnson (Arcade Publishing, 2017, 300 pages, $24.99/14.64) opened the world of tattoo culture to me, introducing me to people I don't know in a world I've always approached with suspicion. Lucky Supreme is a tattoo parlor in Portland's Old Town, the rapidly gentrifying former center for a thriving counter culture of run-down shops, taco joints, and Lucky Supreme. It seems its owner, Darby Holland, has learned of the reappearance of Jason Bling, who had once been his employee, but who had stolen valuable tattoo artwork (flash) from the walls of his shop, and disappeared. The mores of the tattoo world demand that he track down Bling and return the flash to its rightful place on the walls of his shop. Johnson's colorful language and crisp, pointed descriptions of both people and settings, get the story rolling, as a new vocabulary emerges for me.
Darby Holland, somewhere in his mid-thirties, has had an eventful, often disconnected, and turbulent life lived in America's underbelly, experienced with frequent violence and dislocation. He has survived, at least partly, by drawing his experience, which has led him to first an apprenticeship and later ownership in Lucky Supreme. With his rise to owning the tattoo parlor has come a place in this often dysfunctional community featuring a large cast of finely drawn characters. They include his erstwhile girlfriend Delia, Gomez, the owner of a Taco shop and Dmitri, proprietor of “mitri's izza” who owns the dilapidated building containing Lucky Supreme as well as other buildings in the neighborhood. There's also a motley collection of hookers, addicts, gang members, and others, almost all of whom view Darby as someone they want to protect.
As a result of Darby's successful search for Jason Bling, he discovers that the story is much more complicated than he thought it might be, while he's led to a series of interactions with a mysterious Korean businessman. The action sequences are well rendered, the descriptions imaginative, highly visual, and somewhat surreal, as you might expect from a character and writer who's a visual artist as well as a linguistic one. The journey of raped and abandoned early teen to owner of a high quality tattoo shop fills the mind and heart with equal parts of empathy and disgust as well pleasing with blasts of unforgettable writing. Readers often skim this kind of passage, eager to return to the action. Don't do it, if you like fine, from-the-gut writing that scratches the painful itches. New words kept lurching out at me, sending me to Wikipedia or the tattoo lingo web site. For those seeking greater, and easier access to the language of the tattoo culture, take a look at this article.
Artist, writer and musician Jeff Johnson currently lives in Portland, Oregon. His blogs at Will Fight Evil 4 Food. Jeff Johnson is the author of Tattoo Machine, Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink, the novels Everything Under The Moon, Knottspeed, A Love Story, Lucky Supreme, A Novel of Many Crimes (Book One in the Darby Holland Crime Series), A Long Crazy Burn (Book Two in the Darby Holland Crime Series), Deadbomb Bingo Ray, and the short story collection Munez, The Monterey Stories. (from his Goodreads profile) In an interview in Time Magazine, Johnson responded, when asked about his favorite story about his job, “I guess it depends entirely on what mood I'm in. A lot of people ask me, "What is your main regret?" I have to say that every tattoo artist will have the same answer to this question, and it's that eventually, one day, everything you made will be gone. There will be a time when my life's work will vanish from this world. And that's the real, only downside to tattooing — that it's on people, and people just don't last forever. But if that's the only downside, then it's really not that bad, you know?” Johnson's writing and his response to this question lead me to want to read more of his work.
In Lucky Supreme: A Novel of Many Crimes (A Darby Holland Crime Novel) , author Jeff Johnson has presented a taughtly written, gritty, humorous, and violent picture of an underclass community many readers are not familiar with. His world of the tattoo parlor in a declining neighborhood contrasts sharply with the strip mall operations most of us see along the highway in more accessible and acceptable neighborhoods. He's discovered an engaging protagonist whose lifestyle he makes recognizable, even though it may seem alien. That's a tall order, which he carries off with rarefied good writing. I read the book as an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher through Edelweiss. I read it on my Kindle app.