by Brian M Wiprud
Cover Artist: Photo: Richie Fahey
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312601881
Date: 08 June 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Standing 6' 6" and weighing 270 pounds, Tommy Davin is an intimidating man who works in the Corporate Recovery of rare works of art. Because he owes loan shark Vince Scanlon $15,000, Tommy hires three "goofballs" (Frank, Huey, and Kootie) to steal three rare paintings from Brooklyn's Whitbread Museum. He hopes that Max, an insurance agent for United Southern Assurance, will pay him one hundred grand to recover them. Unfortunately, someone steals the paintings from the three goofballs.
Tommy has one week to find the paintings and pay Vince. To make matters worse, those involved in the art theft begin dying, their heads literally exploding when a sniper shoots them during broad daylight on Brooklyn's crowded streets. Soon afterwards, a powerful mobster, Jimmy Robay, and two detectives, Doh and Crispi, suspect Tommy of the killings. A colorful group of people aid Tommy during his struggles to stay alive while solving the mystery of the stolen artwork; they include his hired snoop, Blaise Jones, his lawyer, Carol Doonan, his thirteen-year-old nephew, Skip, his masseuse, Delilah, and Bridget, a prostitute.
Brian M. Wiprud's action-packed Buy Back is a unique crime drama that defines pulp fiction. Written in the first person from the point of view of the protagonist, Tommy Davin, Buy Back is a novel that chronicles the events of an art theft that doesn't go as planned. Greed and revenge lead to betrayal, proving there is no honor among thieves. There is much violence, some of it very gory and disturbing, which escalates towards the novel's final shootout. Also, there is a vast assortment of bizarre characters, which are typical of pulp fiction. One of the strangest is the loan shark, Vince Scanlon, who owns the innocent-appearing Vinnie's Toys and gives puppet shows for children; Tommy refers to him as the Pink Monkey. Naturally, there is the requisite Mafia. Members have odd nicknames, describing body parts, such as Flat Face, Eye Bags, and Jo-Ball. Please don't ask me about the last one.
Perhaps the strangest character of all is Tommy Davin. This tall, handsome, muscular man has no trouble getting a woman in his bed; he just can't seem to keep her there. He also seems to be a magnet for beautiful women with serious issues. His latest one, Yvette, a Las Vegas Show Girl, leaves him with her four cats and a $15,000 debt. A love-scorned Russian mobster, Gustav Urushka, keeps leaving hilarious love letters on Tommy's door after catnapping the cats (the Fuzz Face Four). Unfortunately, Tommy, who can't read Russian, doesn't realize the danger he is in when Gustav's letters become threatening. Don't expect gratuitous sex. All of Tommy's sexual conquests happened in the past. The director of the Whitbread Museum, Sheila McCraken, is another of his past sexual conquests who now hates him. He does, however, have a good relationship with his lawyer and masseuse.
Tommy refuses to carry a gun or inflict bodily harm on anyone. Violence creates negative energy as taught to him by his masseuse. Tommy is very much into Karma; he truly wants to believe that good things happen to good people; and he performs tantric breathing exercises to calm himself during stressful situations like when the sniper is pointing a grenade launcher at his head.
Personally, I believe that most all of the characters in Buy Back are bad; some, however, are more amoral than others. After all, when art is stolen, whether or not it is recovered, insurance companies must pay and those costs are passed on to the general public, which consists of you and I. Nevertheless, what I do like most about Tommy is his witty sense of humor. He gives the reader a lesson on Brooklyn living. For example, a Motel No-tell is a Bump-and-thump in Brooklyn. I had to keep a running list of street terms that he used such as flipping, tripping, tweaking and acting out. FYI: Tweaking means to kill someone.
After Delilah shaves his beard, Tommy realizes how much he looks like his father. Tommy fears he is too much like his father who committed suicide. However, he must have idolized him because he is always quoting his father's quips. My favorite one is: "Luck is the fruit from the tree of persistence." The philosophical Tommy believes that life is like a scrap yard; we are composed of fragmented experiences and emotions that are melted together, negative energy is hopefully extracted, and the remainder is forged into something new. Tommy is also a painter; he has a degree in art history from Brooklyn College, which enables him to recognize expensive paintings.
I like the setting for Buy Back: Brooklyn in late October. Most of the action occurs along Smith Street where residents are decorating their stoops with carved pumpkins, corn stalks and plastic skeletons. The weather is cold and blustery. The author takes his readers from the extravagant offices of the Whitbread Museum and the Williamsburg Savings Bank Building to the filthy environs of the Gowanus Canal and its nearby scrap yard.
If you are a fan of gritty, action-packed crime drama with low-life characters, then Buy Back is definitely for you. What sets this novel apart from the others is Tommy Davin, a large, humorous con artist with unique ethics. It is no wonder that critics and fans of Brian M. Wiprud are already clamoring for a sequel to Buy Back. Other crime dramas with humorous protagonists who made me laugh out loud are Douglas Corleone's One Man's Paradise, Thomas Kaufman's Drink the Tea and Brad Parks' Faces of the Gone.