When it comes to gratuitous food, you can’t go wrong with the chili dog. Taking what is essentially the discarded remnants of other “edible meats”, packing it with spices in a “casing”, turning that into a “meat product”, wrapping it it a bun that’s mostly processed flour and sugar, and THEN covering that with a big pile of spiced ground beef sauce and beans? There really isn’t a single thing involved in the construction of a chili dog that is actually good for you.
And yet...and yet...
Because of this, I think it is rather symbolic that chili dogs make an appearance early on in Lee Goldberg’s vigilante thriller, Judgment. The first of a four-book series of men’s adventure novels Goldberg wrote while still in college back in the mid-80’s, Judgment is the story of Brett Macklin, a peaceful man who owns his own small aviation business with nary a care in the world until the murder of his father, JD Macklin.
JD was your classic “one good cop in a bad city”, a simple foot patrolman trying to keep crime off the streets, walking the pavement of his beat so that he was at eye-level with the city and the citizens. When JD is killed by a gang of vicious thugs, Brett hopes that the capture and conviction of his father’s killers will be swift, sure, and merciless.
Boy, was he wrong.
When the gang of killers goes free, Brett takes up his father’s .357 Colt Python (“...the Cadillac of handguns...”) and sets out to get himself a little vigilante justice. What he finds instead is a web of conspiracy and corruption that goes much further and much deeper into the fabric of the city than anything he could have possibly imagined.
Much badassery ensues.
I’m going to roll back to that chili dog metaphor for a moment. As I stated in my review of Machete, pulp fiction, be it in literature, film, or on television, serves a purpose; it might not be a grand purpose, but it is there nonetheless. It serves our need for quick, greasy, deliciously tawdry entertainment. It is fast food for the mind - nay, for the Id - and while a steady diet of this sort isn’t very healthy, we indulge ourselves now and then for the puerile thrill of the experience. Fittingly, cheap fast food appears throughout Judgment; the chili dogs, cold pizza right out of the refrigerator, cans of cold beer and flat soda, buckets of fried chicken, flat-top egg breakfasts.
When looked at in this light, Judgment definitely delivers the goods. People don’t just get shot - they get their freakin’ heads blown apart in a shower of blood, bone, brains. There aren’t just “car accidents”; people get torn to pieces in a cataclysm of shattering glass and tortured metal. The violence in Judgment isn’t awful or unbearable, it’s just delivered in Technicolor. In many ways, Judgment has the same feel that a lot of 80’s crime / action movies possess, an amped-up, neon-bright, burning rubber down the main drag doing sixty while blaring Motley Crue so loud you can’t even think sort of quality. And that’s how I like it.
A couple of other choice comments.
First, Goldberg doesn’t over-elaborate on his guns, which is a good thing in a book like Judgment. While Mack Bolan or Carl Lyons may wax philosophical on the terminal ballistics of 230-grain jacketed hollowpoints, Brett Macklin just wants to blow away bad guys. Therefore, the gun talk should be at a similar, pedestrian level, and Goldberg gets this right.
Second, while I don’t really need or want awkwardly graphic sex scenes in men’s adventure fiction, I do tire of the protagonists being sexless killing machines lacking all libido. The fact that Brett still finds time for a little nookie during the course of his adventures is something that I heartily approve.
And third, this book was lean and mean, without a lot of padding or needless over-elaboration. People, places, and things are sketched out in a handful of words, the dialogue is kept fast and to the point, and the scenes move right along without a lot of dithering about. In my opinion, there’s nothing to add, and nothing I’d pare away.
There are three more books in the Jury series, and I hope to read them all. I’ll probably have to save them for some summer reading, but I’m definitely looking forward to Brett Macklin blowing away some more punks, eating more cold pizza, and bombing around in his “Batmobile”.