October 12, 2005

Booze Books: 'On The House' Review

On The House: The Bizarre Killing of Michael Malloy
Typical Price: $7.99 at Amazon

On The House: The Bizarre Killing of Michael MalloyWe've been sitting on our review of On The House for the last couple days, because we weren't quite sure what to say about it. That's not to say we didn't like it - we just needed a little while to catch our breath and process it.

On the one hand, the book's setup is true crime meets pure horror - a group of ruthless blackguards (always wanted to use that term) who want to kill an unsuspecting man who calls them friend, and make a buck off it. To do so, they feed him gallons of poisonous liquor and plates of food full of tin scraps. They run him over with a taxi cab. They douse him in water and leave him passed out in sub-zero temperatures. In a lot of ways, this is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

On the other hand, parts are pure comedy, because these guys are the bumblingest 'murder trust' we've ever heard of. The closest analogy we could come up with was 'Inspector Clouseau convinces the Three Stooges to help him murder The Tick.' No one can do anything right, and even when they come up with plans that should work, the title character's legendary constitution lets him shrug off all the damage like he's nigh invulnerable.

On the technical side, author Simon Read obviously did his research - he details the story down to its minutiae, and if it becomes convoluted on the page, you get the feeling that's only because he was slave to real events. This isn't fiction, where you can make your story as simple or broad as you want, and Read reports the facts. That being said, however, we found his writing to be most engaging when he moved away from the brutal truths.

The sections that really popped as we read it were the spots where Read stepped into the heads of his characters, reconstructing what they might have been thinking. For example, there is a sequence in the second chapter, where Mike Malloy wakes up with a hangover, that made us cringe with gut-twisting empathy, from his throbbing eyeballs to his lips "like two Polish sausages slapped together." We liked these forays away from cold facts, and relished them when we found them sprinkled through the book.

All in all, as the title suggests, this is not a book for everyone. If you're not interested in reading about people sinking to ridiculous criminality to make a few pennies off someone else's misery, stay away. Even the background details can be shocking and disturbing, like the blinding of a speakeasy owner with a handkerchief covered in "muck collected from a gonorrheic discharge." But all in all it is a shocking portrayal of the depths of the Depression, and the even deeper lows to which people can sink.

We found it well worth the read if you can stomach it, and while you might want to steady yourself with a drink or two beforehand, be warned: this is a book that will probably put you off the booze for a couple days.

On The House: The Bizarre Killing of Michael Malloyby Simon Read at Amazon.

Previously On Liquor Snob:
On The House Arrives for Review
Booze Books: On The House

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Posted by Jake Jamieson at October 12, 2005 9:39 PM


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