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Upgunned by David J. Schow
Cover Artist: Tim Bradstreet
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Thomas Dunne Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312571375
Date: 14 February 2012 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Elite, Hollyweird fashion photographer, Elias McCabe, is abducted at gunpoint by a professional assassin, Chambers (a.k.a. Gun Guy, a.k.a. Jack Vickers). Elias is forced to take incriminating photographs of a dead man, Dominic Sharps of LAPD's Special Tactical Wing, who is posed to look as though he is still alive and having sex with a prostitute named Cognac. Afterwards, Elias is released unharmed and paid for his silence; foolishly, he posts on YouTube a video of Chambers confessing his crime. Chambers' boss, Mal Boyd, goes ballistic and orders the assassin to clean up his mess. Elias flees to New York City after learning that his friends and associates are being viciously murdered in various methods intended to frame him.

David J. Schow's Raunchy, mega-violent noir, Upgunned, is a guilty pleasure that could actually make you feel guilty. Besides having brutal, nonstop violence, it has crude language that would make the crudest pottymouth blush and sex scenes too perverse even to be found in a Harold Robbins novel. Overall, I highly enjoyed this bloody, high body count action thriller. Just don't tell my preacher and fellow parishioners at Woodland Heights Baptist Church that I read it. Reading a Schow crime novel is like passing by a bad car wreck. You don't want to look, but you can't help it, and the dark, evil side of your personality (the side most of us try to stomp down and keep hidden) is hoping to see some blood and guts.

This is one of those rare novels (at least I hope it's rare) where all the characters are bad. Some are just nastier than others. Seriously, I don't wish to emulate any of them, let alone copulate with any of them for fear of catching a disease. These characters live in a different world than mine. Normal humans try to survive from one paycheck to the next while wondering where their next meal is coming from. The characters in Upgunned try to survive from one sex act to the next while wondering where their next drug fix is coming from. Most of them are so unhappy with themselves that they hide behind aliases, plastic surgery, designer clothes, tattoos and body piercing. Schow takes the reader from Los Angeles to New York City and shows them the seedy and glitzy sides of life. In the process, he proves, like so many other authors have, that money, no matter how much you have, can never buy true happiness.

At first, I though Schow must've performed an extensive amount of research prior to writing Upgunned. However, silly me remembered that he has been the screenwriter for numerous horror films including The Crow--famous for having the set on which Brandon Lee died, which is briefly mentioned in Upgunned. It is no wonder that Schow is able to take the reader into the worlds of fashion photography and filmmaking and describe in very intricate detail everything from the operation of a photographer's darkroom to the workings of a movie soundstage. Most importantly, the reader will receive a crash course on how to choose, disassemble, clean and fire a gun. This novel references a multitude of powerful weapons. Upgunned is an apt title. There is a tremendous amount of shooting, and killing.

Schow, who has a fascination with antique props from classic science fiction and horror films, reminds me of a young Mario Bava who was Italy's Master of the Macabre. Indeed, some of my favorite scenes from Upgunned involved the freaks who worked in New York's underground club, the Salon Fantastique de l'Exotique. The freaks are reminiscent of Tod Browning's controversial classic Freaks, which is also mentioned in the novel. Some of the freaks in Upgunned are too freakish to be believable. This would probably have been harmful to the plot if not for the fact that the entire novel reads like an outrageous comic book, minus the artwork.

I daresay that I enjoyed Upgunned better than Schow‘s previous crime drama, Internecine. He upped the violence, the sex, and the sleaze. Most important to me, he upped the body count. Reading Upgunned was like watching a slasher flick that has a serial killer such as Jason Voorhees of the seemingly endless Friday the 13th series. Upgunned is most highly recommended for anyone who craves bloody, ultra-violent crime drama. It is not a true whodunit. The only mystery is whether or not Elias McCabe will survive until the end. However, there is a rather shocking finale that is quite delightful; I simply loved it. I wish I could recommend another crime drama on the same caliber as Upgunned. Unfortunately, Upgunned upstages them all.

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