While studying Latin-American and Spanish literature, I became interested in the picaresque genre. Reading works such as Lazarillo de Tormes and Perriquillo Sarniento gave me a taste for the pícaro, a usually wisecracking antihero who recounts his misadventures. While reviewing indie works, I had the pleasure of coming across two authors who have successfully created a modern-day American pícaro. One is Phillip T. Stephens in his novel Cigrets, Guns, and Beer.
Using dry wit and sardonic humor throughout, the novel recounts the story of Dodd Dodd Dodd (no joke-that’s his full legal name), a recent parolee who, having earned his law degree in prison, is headed to Santa Fe for a prospective job. Unfortunately, he finds himself broke down in, of all places, the same town where his ex-cellmate’s brother lives. Sweet Water Falls, Texas is no one-horse town; that would be implying there was a horse and thus, SOMETHING to do besides, as one character bluntly put it, “mattress surf.” You can literally visualize the tumbleweeds rolling down the road amidst the tiny dust swirls. While waiting for his car to get fixed, Dodd pops into a local store and interrupts an attempted armed robbery by a punk kid. Giving in to a moment of compassion, Dodd takes the kid (who he knows would be fresh meat in the penitentiary) under his wing and tries to help him turn his life around. This is the first of many things that put him at odds with Mal Rafferty and Joe Bob and Ralph Meeker, who hold the titles of mayor, sheriff, justice of the peace, and just about every other official title. Thus begins the adventures of Dodd, whom Sweet Water Fall’s grand oligarchy has reason to believe was involved in a botched robbery many years before (and evidently, some scandal involving a flying saucer) and uses several (sometimes laughable) stall tactics to keep him in town long enough to get to the bottom of the issue.
Rafferty and the Meekers are almost cartoonish in their buffoonery. If you imagine Texas hillbilly versions of the Three Stooges with greedy streaks and incompetent criminal minds, you have these three jokers. They can’t cooperate or get a plan together, even when their life literally depends on it. It’s so easy to confuse them and pit them against each other. Dodd quickly figures this out and uses it to his advantage every chance he gets, and in no time at all, a comedy of errors ensues.
I found Dodd to be an extremely likeable character. He’s calm, cool, and collected, and seems determined to remain on the straight and narrow. Depending on your viewpoint, Cigrets is either misogynist or pro-feminist. In the two weeks we get with Dodd, almost every woman in town comes onto him, and he never turns down the chance for a piece of action. The sex scenes, while highly erotic, are not pornographic.
I would classify Cigrets as a “comedy thriller” (proof that contrasting genres can successfully be blended). Overall, I highly recommend it.