Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-671-87494-2
Contemporary Fiction, 1992 (Reissue)
Folks who are looking for sleaze and raunchy fun are going to be so heartbroken by The Piranhas: it has a few super-short, skimpily detailed naughty scenes that lasted for a paragraph or two, and that’s all to it. Readers will have to settle for the story, and it’s like those guys back in those days that claimed to read Playboy for the articles: take away the pictures, and the articles abruptly feel lacking.
This is Jedidiah Stephens’s story, and how, despite his parents trying to raise him away from Uncle Rocco’s Godfather-ly ways, ends up immersing himself in the world of organized crime as he attempts to help his irascible uncle retire gracefully from the mob. However, the story first opens with an exciting shootout at Uncle Rocco’s funeral, before flashing back to earlier days when a younger Jed attempts to do some drug dealing thing with his cousin Angelo in the Amazon region. That’s when the literal piranhas show up and eat Angelo… oops. And then, Jed goes back to America, talks a lot, a few people get shot down, and then Uncle Rocco dies happily in his bed, the end.
The whole thing is unexpectedly readable, mostly due to the campy bad B-grade movie feel the whole thing. The dialogues, scene set-ups, and everything else are pretty bad, but these scenes can be bad enough to be unintentionally hilarious, so they aren’t too bad in the end. Jed’s lines make him sound like a Chuck Norris character experiencing a bad bout of diarrhea all the time, and it’s laughable how inept the bad guys can be in the five seconds they show up only to get mowed down each time.
However, this story is quite an unfocused mess at the end of the time. A big reason for this is the spectacular blandness of Jed: he has zero personality and he seems to be able to do anything and everything for who knows why or how. Problems that show up are resolved in a page or two, often with the nuisances gunned down for posterity, and as a result, there is zero suspense. It also doesn’t help that Uncle Rocco is portrayed as bewilderingly omnipotent: he can figure out every plot of the bad guys by simply breathing or something. Jed and Uncle Rocco, therefore, spend the entire story basically taking a walk in a park for the entire story.
Compounding to the problem is that there is no central nemesis for our main characters to focus on. The bad guys are random, unnamed people that show up just to get killed in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them manner. There is nothing interesting here that challenges Jed and Uncle Rocco in a believable, suspenseful way. Oh, and some of the best scenes take place off-stage, and Jed and hence the reader are only aware of these moments when he stumbles upon the dead bodies. Seriously, what is this? It’s like the author were determined to make sure that I don’t get any fun while reading this thing.
Factor in the absence of sleaze and The Piranhas is all about what happens when you take away the fun stuff in a Harold Robbins book to focus on the “plot”. What plot? And who cares? Give me the sleaze, please, and leave the plotting to better authors, thanks.