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Kiss Me, Judas
ISBN 0140289011 / 9780140289015 / 0-14-028901-1
Publisher Penguin Books
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In his extremely dark but very effective first thriller, former cabdriver and homeless counselor Will Christopher Baer takes that old urban legend of the man who wakes up in a hotel bathtub full of ice to discover that somebody has removed one of his kidneys and whips it up into a modernized Edgar Allan Poe nightmare. Baer's hero is in fact called Phineas Poe--an ex-cop who spent six years digging up dirt in and on the Denver P.D.'s Internal Affairs Division. On his first night out after a nervous breakdown and a six-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, Poe is picked up by a prostitute named Jude who drugs his drink and deftly removes his kidney.
Poe heads for the Witch's Teat, a sex shop where his friend Crumb works. "Crumb isn't really a doctor. He does cheap abortions and gunshot wounds and even dental work for the mad and desperate," Baer writes in deceptively plain present-tense prose, which quickly mesmerizes like electronic music. "Crumb reads a lot. He has a closet full of old surgical textbooks and a lot of stolen equipment. And he doesn't try to fake you. If you come to him with a ruptured bowel or a crushed spine, he gives you a cup of tea and sends you to the hospital." Poe learns that his kidney has been replaced by a bag of heroin--which could kill him if it dissolves. Intent on retrieving his stolen organ, he traces Jude to a bowling alley called the Inferno. Strangely enough, with Jude he reluctantly discovers the chance of love and family that he thought was gone forever when his wife died. In lesser hands, this flash of light in a roomful of noir could easily have spoiled everything. But Baer makes it all seem as natural as whistling in the dark. --Dick Adler [via]