Edward Bunker is a writer who’s personal biography is every bit
as compelling as the crime novels he pens. From the age of ten
he was in and out of reform school , graduating to dope dealing
at 16 and at 17 becoming the youngest ever guest of the infamous
San Quentin prison. In his twenties he moved to forgery and extortion,
and by his thirties had added armed robbery to a criminal c.v.
which put him firmly on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. By the
time he was 40 he had spent more time in prison than out of it.
It was whilst in San Quentin that he started writing and it
was the publication of his first novel, No Beast So Fierce,
that provided the key for his escape from a cycle of crime and
Bunker has now been out of prison for over twenty years and in
that time has written two more novels, Little Boy Blue
and The Animal Factory, penned and polished numerous film
scripts, and played bit parts in many films. Indeed the reason
you may have come across Edward Bunker is that he briefly appeared
as Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs (he with the very definite
opinions on tipping waitresses). It was partly thanks to the
success of the film that his early novels were re-issued in Britain
with No Beast So Fierce being belatedly heralded by Tarantino
as "the best first person crime novel I have ever read".
And Bunker is not short of other impressive plaudits. His
new novel, Dog Eat Dog, carries an introduction by none
other than William Styron and sports an impressive cover quote
from that other luminary of LA crime writing, James Ellroy.
Dog Eat Dog is the tale of three unremorseful criminals
with two felony convictions apiece and no more chances. Under
California’s `Three Strikes’ law, one more conviction – even for
shoplifting – carries a mandatory life sentence with no prospect
of remission. But a law intended to deter career criminals has
the opposite effect on these three. Combined they have spent
a lifetime behind bars and have no idea, or intention, of leading
a straight life under rules set by a system they have never belonged
to. Troy, the gang’s leader and the brains of the operation,
is an unrepentant thief who is `irrevocably committed to being
the criminal outsider. He had nothing vested in society. It
had turned him out and expected him to be satisfied as a menial
worker as the price for staying out of prison. Real freedom has
choices attached; without money there is none’. And with that
in mind, Troy and his partners, Diesel Carson and the truly rabid
Mad Dog McCain, set about planning a last big heist which will
set them up for life. But even a perfectly planned and flawlessly
executed robbery is not enough to prevent a denouement which has
a grim inevitability about it.
Edward Bunker is not a writer who needs to make much up and as
with his previous novels there is the unsettling certainty that
much of the action here is drawn directly from the author’s own
experiences or from the long remembered tales of fellow convicts.
The deceptively straightforward style of writing has a feeling
of reportage about it, of fact told as fiction. There are even
a few favourite anecdotes that have made previous appearances
in only slightly different guises in the first three novels and
which one suspects must be documented facts. But if Edward Bunker
lacks the invention of crime writers such as James Ellroy it is
of little consequence for a man with such a deep well of material
to draw from.
Told with compassion and knowing Dog Eat Dog is a work
of unaffected realism about basically good men in a bad situation.
Edward Bunker is distinct among American crime writers in that he has been there,
lived the life, and survived to tell the tale.
Reviewed by Jon Mitchell