Book Review: Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman
Every Man a Menace
By Patrick Hoffman
Atlantic Monthly Press
Patrick Hoffman’s Every Man a Menace is a panoramic international crime novel in which the action spans both hemispheres. The story revolves around drug-smuggling: MDMA is making its way to California, and a collection of violent criminals, low-lifes, and liars are all taking up their positions on the chessboard to get their product on the streets. When ex-con Raymond Gaspar has to ingratiate himself into a world where a wrong step means death, he soon becomes locked in a twisted dance with an unstable drug dealer who has no compunction about using his own product. Their relationship soon mirrors Thomas Jefferson’s metaphorical wolf: he is holding the wolf by the ears, and he can neither hold him nor safely let him go.
Every Man a Menace flows at a consistently fast-moving pace, with cinematic levels of action. If there is one aspect of the book that is disappointing, it is that many of the scenes and situations are stock fodder in caper novels and movies, such as the introductory scene between two criminals where a partnership is forged in shared drug use. However, just because some scenes are familiar, they are no less effective, and Hoffman manages to make certain tropes of the genre his own, rather than mere clichés trotted out to fill out a template.
The dialogue is raw– vulgar words for vulgar criminals—but it is appropriate for the characters. While many authors scatter profanity in their work like graffiti on a building wall, Hoffman manages to use it to reflect character and creates a kind of lyricism in the midst of the crudeness. In a lesser wordsmith’s hands, the dialogue might remain abrasive and tacky, but Hoffman’s words serve to create a seedy world, adding a level of volatility and danger to the characters.
Although most of the characters grab your attention, few are truly likeable. This allows for a certain level of distancing on the part of the reader. Throughout the book, there’s a clear sense of danger and a premonition that the situation can’t possibly go according to plan. This motley crew of drug dealers are frequently interesting but almost never sympathetic. The reader knows that crime shouldn’t pay, but the details along the road to hell aren’t made clear, which makes the journey taken in Every Man a Menace compelling and unsettling.