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Dog Eat Dog
Edward Bunker

Dog Eat Dog
Edward Bunker
No Exit Press
London 1996

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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 incarceration.

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


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