by Cody Goodfellow
Broken River Books; 300 p.
Cody Goodfellow’s Repo Shark kicks off with a man making an entire hotel nervous. This bizarre opening is followed by a fight with a Hawaiian prostitute, a healthy dose of Michael Bay-worthy destruction, an episode of autofellatio with an unfortunate teeth-related mishap, accent-slathered conversations with a few strange characters, a briefcase full of weed and coke, and enough cursing to satisfy fans of Martin Scorsese’s F-bomb wiseguy masterpiece Goodfellas. Then readers reach page 11 and move on to the second chapter, and that’s when things start getting weird.
Zef DeGroot is a Vegas repo man who’s been sent to Hawaii to collect a motorcycle from a local drug dealer known as Donny Punani. Zef has a lot of experience and skills, so he expects the job to be easy and even has a stash of drugs in his colon that he plans on quickly turning into a little extra cash. Unfortunately for him, Hawaii holds a lot of surprises for Zef. For starters, Punani is not just a violent gang leader and killer karaoke performer; he’s something far more ancient and dangerous. To make things worse, Punani’s crew are as weird as they are scary, Zef is attacked by everything from criminals to parrots, the motorcycle is not exactly what he was lead to believe, everyone has a dodgy agenda, the drugs inside him refuse to come out, and he learns that magic is real whether you believe it or not. Between crazy people getting in his way, old magic interfering, and cannibal thugs out to get him, finding the bike will become the least of Zef’s concerns, and once he does, he’ll have to shift his focus to surviving a bloodthirsty and very toothy deity.
Repo Shark is a strange beast; at once a crime novel, a bizarro adventure, and a deconstruction-turned-homage to Hawaii. Goodfellow gives the reader a seemingly endless collection of outlandish characters and then has them interact in progressively odder, and funnier, situations while simultaneously lifting the veil of Hawaii’s kitschy, tourist-friendly atmosphere. There are beaches and surfers here, but also poverty, gangs, drugs, and old beliefs that refuse to disappear in the face of the white man’s invasion:
A Hawaiian witch can take a ghost and trap it and pray a lot of mana into it, and bind it into a familiar spirit to do her bidding. Fierce and ferocious, and they can’t be killed. Even dying, an unihipilii can’t get free.
Starting a narrative with a punch is not easy, but plenty of authors manage to do just that. However, the beauty of Repo Shark is that its outrageous opening accelerates and never takes a break. If this was a novella, Goodfellow’s ability to maintain superb pacing and his knack for dragging the reader along by the neck while Zef jumps, runs, steals, crashes, and shoots his way around Hawaii would merit a passing mention. Here, however, the author does all of it splendidly well for almost 300 pages and while continuously adding characters to the intense, violent, stoned mix. Also, the action sequences have a cinematic feel to them and the dialogue is a hilarious blend of Zef’s confident idiocy and local lingo. Despite getting so much right, the thing that pushes this narrative into must-read territory is the writing itself, a debauched, relentlessly witty prose that manages to be engaging even when describing settings, which turns Goodfellow into the hyperactive, foulmouthed antithesis of the great classic Russian novelists:
Lahaina was like Dodge City or Deadwood, the main drag a tourist trap with the neon and plastic wrapped around a core of old gray wood and brick and whalebone. The buildings along the waterfront had balconies like New Orleans, and wood sidewalks leading to posh art galleries, jewelers and T-shirt places and shaved ice huts. There were only three streets running through downtown and they were all blocked up like Black Friday.
To say no one writes like Goodfellow is both accurate and an understatement. Whether he’s writing bizarro or horror, his work is always exciting, unique, and delivered with a prose that moves forward at breakneck speed. With Repo Shark, his first crime novel, he has taken pulp aesthetics in a new, much faster, weirder, and wonderfully grimier direction.