GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER
A Book Review of Robert Krakoff’s Die Laughing
By Harriet Hart
200 Pesos at Diane Pearl Colleciones
By day Ajijic resident Rob Krakoff is an entrepreneur, but by night he indulges his secret passion – writing fiction. Die Laughing, his debut novel, poses the burning question: “Can a lonesome loser achieve his career goal of becoming a stand-up comic, plus get the girl of his dreams, survive a brush with gangsters in Las Vegas and get away with murder?” Krakoff takes protagonist Alex Zachery from North Hollywood High to two-bit comedy clubs in L.A. then on to Vegas where he runs money for the mob.
Fleeing crime scenes and shady employers, we follow Alex to small town Mississippi and beyond; the plot is far-fetched but totally enjoyable as Alex changes his identity, his direction and his occupation. Our hero is a fugitive from justice and quite possibly a sociopath, yet the author succeeds in making him likeable. I kept rooting for this guy in spite of myself.
Character depiction is one of Krakoff’s strengths. He creates a motley crew beginning with Johnny Shotlan (Shitland to Alex), the school bully who later re-appears as a police detective on Alex’s trail; Sarah, a waitress at Denny’s, Alex’s muse and first true love; agent Bernie Padgent Jr.; Vegas boss Big Eddie Julian; savior and small town pharmacist Doc Benton, and many more. Here’s our introduction to Eddie: “Now, I have reasonably large mitts, but his paw swallowed my hand. This wasn’t a hand – it was a suitcase.” And to Sarah: “This was in 1963 and Sarah was the first woman I ever saw bearing a tattoo. It was a black rose, just below her right shoulder. Her uniform covered all but the bottom of the tattoo and until we got to know each other better months later, I thought she had some deformity or birthmark.”
Krakoff pays close attention to setting. He depicts Vegas in 1975: “It amazed me that for a town that was no more than twenty years old, everything outside the strip looked to be pre-World War II. It was all built on slab; it was all pre-fab, cheap plywood and particleboard….” He conjures up equally well the underbelly of Vegas, an office tower in Manhattan, a small town pharmacy in Mississippi and even the city of Minneapolis.
What I like best about Die Laughing is the style. Krakoff writes in the first person and his protagonist’s voice is 100% believable. “How did a nice guy like me wind up killing another human being in their own home? Why would I allow myself such a string of misguided judgements? My life up to that night had been a constant string of bad jokes and this was the punch line from hell….” The tone is conversational and confessional throughout.
Finally, the author sets a swift pace – while we’re never quite sure where Alex will find himself next– but we’re happy to go along for the carnival ride that is his life. This is one helluva first novel. Just don’t buy this book looking for a social message because there isn’t one. It’s written in the spirit of fun which is perfect for the life of a stand-up comic and you’ll be reading from start to finish with a big smile on your face. Serial killers can actually be fun...and maybe even get away with murder.