Down-and-out ex-cop and not-quite-reformed addict Manny Rupert accepts an undercover job to find out if a California prison inmate is who he claims to be: Josef Mengele, aka the Angel of Death. Did the sadistic legend, whose Auschwitz crimes still horrify, fake his own death thirty years ago? Suddenly Manny finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy involving genocide, drugs, eugenics, human experiments, and America's secret history of collusion with the Nazis—all while careening from one extreme of apocalypse-adjacent reality to the other.
Not for the faint of heart, Jerry Stahl's Pain Killers hurtles readers into a disturbing, original, and alarmingly real world filled with some of the strangest sex, most horrific violence, and screaming wit ever found on the page.
About the Author
Jerry Stahl is the author of the narcotic memoir Permanent Midnight and Perv—a Love Story, both Los Angeles Times bestsellers, as well as the acclaimed novels Pain Killers, Plainclothes Naked, and I, Fatty. He has written extensively for film and television.
Read an Excerpt
By Jerry Stahl
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Sun Myung Moon looked great in a bikini.
The sight did not inspire me to schedule gender reassignment, but it was undeniably engaging. As my eyes strayed to the other eight-by-ten glossies on the bedroom dresser, I found myself wondering if the arrangement was random or if there was some coded message in the way things had been laid out.
The buxom Sun Myung, sandwiched between a muu-muu'd Pope Benedict and a severely hog-tied Clarence Thomas, floated directly over Jerry Falwell, who appeared to be reading the Bible while spanking a hefty, ball-gagged blonde with Choose Life branded across her coccyx. Of the four, Falwell was the only one who looked like he was enjoying himself. Maybe that was the message the home invader meant to convey: Party like Falwell! Or maybe, in the manner of burglars who relieve themselves on the carpet after stealing your silverware, the message was the fact that they were able to leave anything at all. The message was: Hey, asshole, look what we can do!
There was, certainly, a lesson in Justice Thomas's comportment. Despite the obvious pain and degradation, his expression was one of infinite patience. Gentle understanding. I had never been a fan, but his stoic bearing won me over. The man had nobility.
I basked inthat thought for a moment, then reality clawed me again. My home invader might still be in my home. I cried out, feeling like an idiot, "I'm a cop!" That's when I noticed a black and white photo, smaller than the others, wedged behind a dresser leg.
This one showed a smiling, gap-toothed fellow in a uniform. He might have been Jack Lemmon's cousin, if Jack Lemmon's cousin had a trim mustache and served in the SS. The twin lightning bolts on the lapels were a dead giveaway. The officer in the photo was in a laboratory, a forbidding nurse at his side. He clamped calipers in both hands, simultaneously measuring the budding breasts of naked, pubescent twin girls on his left and right. Stamped under the shot, in block letters, was Beidhändig. Below that, in a looping scrawl, someone had penned the translation: ambidextrous.
The ex-cop in me knew I should stop staring and deal with the situation—however it is you deal with strangers planting celebrity perv pics in your bedroom. But the image of that smiling SS man and his calipers was so disturbing, my eyes retreated to the puckish Moon. Why shouldn't the Korean messiah enjoy some dress-up? Think what early Christians would have done if Jesus had been resurrected with cleavage!
All speculation was shattered by a gravelly voice behind me. "They're not real!" Before I could react, something cracked the back of my head. I don't remember going down. I only remember coming to, blinking away twirling stars, in a forced crouch. Trapped in a tiny aluminum jail.
"Christ!" I cried.
"Him, I got no photos."
I blinked some more and realized I wasn't in jail. I was cramped within the four legs of a walker. A heavily jowled old man waited for me to raise my eyes, then spat an inch from my knee.
I considered punching the senior intruder in the testicles. They were, in my Guantánamo crouch, at eye level, drooping prominently behind the shiny weave of his poly-blend Sansabelt trousers.
"What kind of schmohawk gets mugged by a seventy-two-year-old with a walker?"
"Happens all the time." I yanked myself up by a walker leg so that my new friend and I were jammed face-to-face, like two guys squeezed into a telephone booth. "Just last week an old lady brained me with her orthopedic cane, and the day before that some prick with Alzheimer's kicked me down a flight of stairs, then forgot he did it and kicked me down another flight."
"Oh, a funny guy."
"That's me," I said. "May I?"
I lifted one of his hands off the grip and eased by him. The old man's breath stank of sardines and horseradish. When he picked something fleshy off his tongue and flicked it at me, I slapped him. "That's disgusting."
My attacker rubbed his face, his mouth forming a smile that looked like it was made of other people's lips. "How 'bout that, the kid's not a complete pussy."
I kicked the walker away and caught him when he fell forward. I was that tough.
"How about you shut the fuck up so I can decide whether to strangle you or not? It'd be legal—you broke in!"
This seemed to make the jowly old man even happier. "So what's stopping you?"
"I'm curious. You make a habit of hobbling around, planting bad tabloid shots in people's houses? There money in that?"
The old guy spat out another fleck and I backhanded him.
"I live here, Pops. Stop hocking on my carpet."
He spat again. This time when I tried to slap him, he caught my hand. His grip was a shock, but no more than his reflexes. He kept grinning until he let my hand drop. "Bad habit," he said.
I winced, which I knew he'd enjoy. Then I righted the fallen walker and handed it back it to him. "You still haven't told me about the pictures."
"I got a job for you."
"So that's why you Walker Texas Rangered me?"
"I wanted to get your attention. The pics are fakes. Photoshop."
"Fuck the pictures. What are you doing here?"
He shrugged. "You break into a man's home, you want to give him a show. Ha!"
The old man feinted left with a jab and cackled when I ducked. Enough strange things had happened in my life that the bar for "strange" was fairly high. But this was getting up there.
"Okay, I lied," the old man blurted. "They're not all fakes."
He tapped the gap-toothed SS man in my hand.
"This one is real. He's the only one I'm interested in."
Excerpted from Pain Killers by Jerry Stahl Copyright © 2009 by Jerry Stahl. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
“From the opening gut punch this book had me laughing and turning pages. Jerry Stahl is Thomas Berger’s wicked stepson and his new novel is a tour de force.”
Dig it: PervA Love Story is a beautifully wrought and twisted ode to freaks, beatniks, hopheads, and the wild-assed and strange everywhere. Jerry Stahl is the American hipster bard.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Pain Killers by Jerry Stahl is certainly not for the faint-hearted as it dives into the world of drug addicts, prison and Nazis. This novel is creative and witty but also disturbing and brutally graphic. It involves Manny Rupert who is an ex-cop, but not ex-drug addict is hired to find out if an inmate is the real Josef Mengele or a just a nut. From there he gets weirder. This is certainly not a book for everyone, myself included.
I received this book free an Early Readers Program. Manny Rupert, an addict, a cop kicked off the force, an the ex-husband of a murderer, is back for round two. This time he's been hired to go undercover in San Quentin and determine whether a sick old man in for vehicular manslaughter is really who he claims to be-the infamous Nazi Doctor of Death, Joseph Mengele. That's where Pain Killers starts, but where it goes is on an insane, gritty, noir venture through the darkest parts of society. Pain Killers is a humorous black romp if by humorous you mean "OMG they went there" and by romp you mean going by limo from prison snail back trailer to Christian film sets to meth houses and mansions and back again. This novel is, to steal a line, truly, truly outrageous. Stahl's humor is not for everyone, possibly not for anyone that possesses an iota of sensitivity about religion, psychology, the human condition, addiction, or just about any subject. But there's a sort of victorious feel to seeing character so truly messed up still intelligent and stubborn and taking on the face of human evil. There's more talking than action, so the pace is not forceful or fast. At times the conversations while interesting and amusing come off as off topic, when the point is to solve a mystery. And the WTH factor is, at times, very high. But it's a wild ride, different from everything else out there which certainly has an audience in today's marketplace.
Jerry Stahl's "Pain Killers" is dark, funny, disturbing, nauseating, and entertaining. The main character, Manny Rubert, is a stereotypical ex-undercover cop recovering junkie, but somehow that works. Manny and the other characters are well defined and interesting, if not particularly likable. The modern-day plot is coherent, compelling, and possibly even plausible. The story delves deeply into morality, but cleverly and without lectures, holding a mirror up for the reader to examine his own soul and potential behavior. The story also shines a light on history and the modern perceptions of history, reminding us that history books are written by the victors and to truly understand history, it is necessary to understand the context of events and delve deeply enough into historical events to truly understand what happened. Yes, the losers may have been evil, but that does not mean the victors were innocent angels.
Septuagenarian Harry Zell breaks into the home of former cop turned private investigator Manny Rupert. After knocking out the sleuth and reviving him, Harry hires Manny to investigate the claim of a nonagenarian San Quentin inmate who insists he is Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele. Though he would prefer to decline the case, Manny needs the $10,000 fee to meet his debts including two ex wives demanding their checks.
To get inside the prison, Manny pretends to be a drug counselor; a job he figures he knows personally having been a user. He meets Mengele who provides seemingly personal accounts of scientific experiments on humans at Auschwitz and San Quentin while also hinting at advising pharmaceutical companies on his scientific method applied at Abu Ghraib and other American prisons around the world. As Manny struggles with determining whether the old man is senile with one hell of a dark imagination or the ¿Angel of Death¿, he observes one of his former wives Tina frolicking with a prisoner. Thinking how charming his luck seems to run, she claims she is at the prison working for Manny. Harry wonders what is his client¿s true agenda.
This intriguing premise takes a deep shot at the market corrects itself philosophy as Jerry Stahl ties big government especially the prison industry to big business as warehousing and experimenting on people in which the bottom line is everything. Social, political and economic issues are raised throughout that will have the audience ponder the reason behind the Bush administration belief that everything is top secret . The plot cleverly skews ethical restraints starting with the Mengele ¿scientific method¿ applied in modern times apparently by a consortium of CIA, DOD and big pharmaceutical firms. However, at times the psychology sessions with the ex-addict prisoners drag the tale from its basic theme of hyperbole satirizing the ¿Big Bush¿ vision of the world, fans who enjoy something different will appreciate Mr. Stah¿s skewing.