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Pistol Poets

Pistol Poets

4.1 7
by Victor Gischler

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The Edgar-nominated author of Gun Monkeys is back with a thrill-a-minute suspense novel that mixes crime and academia—with hilarious results. Here Victor Gischler draws us into a wild and wicked world, where tenured professors are busy burying bodies, cash-up-front P.I.’s hunt for missing coeds and one desperate street-tough has to decide which he’d


The Edgar-nominated author of Gun Monkeys is back with a thrill-a-minute suspense novel that mixes crime and academia—with hilarious results. Here Victor Gischler draws us into a wild and wicked world, where tenured professors are busy burying bodies, cash-up-front P.I.’s hunt for missing coeds and one desperate street-tough has to decide which he’d rather be: a live poet or a dead criminal.

An unlucky grad student just got himself killed in a robbery gone bad. And as lowly drug lieutenant Harold Jenks races with the killer out of the alley, a light goes off in his head: He’ll steal the dead kid’s identity. Now Jenks, who once lorded it over seven square blocks in East St. Louis, is headed due west. With a .32 in his pocket, a 9mm Glock taped across his back, and a rap sheet nearly as long as Finnegans Wake, he’s cruising the halls of academia as Eastern Oklahoma U’s newest grad student, looking for action and hoping he can stay one couplet ahead of his violent past.

While this new bad boy on campus makes mincemeat of his metaphors, across campus visiting professor Jay Morgan has a more pressing problem: What to do about the dead coed in his bed. The professor’s no killer, but try telling that to private eye Deke Stubbs. With the professor on the lam and Stubbs hot on his trail, more trouble blows into town. Now, as St. Louis drug boss Red Zach and his minions converge on Fumbee, Oklahoma, looking for a consignment of missing cocaine, the bullets start flying faster than the zingers at a faculty hate fest. For Morgan and Jenks, now desperate fugitives from poetic justice, survival means learning new skills—and learning fast. Because if they find out they’re bottom-of-the-class, that means they’re already dead.

Featuring the sleaziest, sorriest, and most captivating group of criminal lowlifes, sexed-up academics, poets, and rappers ever to collide in one crime novel, The Pistol Poets speeds deliriously to its electrifying payoff.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
The Pistol Poets is in numerous ways politically incorrect, which decent satire almost has to be, and its twisted tale of gangsters and poets, if not profound, will brighten the day of anyone blessed with a sense of humor. — Patrick Anderson
Publishers Weekly
With this madcap sophomore outing, after 2001's Edgar-nominated Gun Monkeys, Gischler challenges Kinky Friedman for top slot in the zany noir subgenre of mystery fiction-and for sheer mayhem and body count momentum, Gischler may triumph. Itinerant poetry teacher Jay Morgan is one semester into a short-term contract as a visiting professor at Eastern Oklahoma University when he wakes up with that time-honored mystery clich , a dead girl in his bed. Before he can react-before, actually, he realizes she's dead-he's called into the office of the dean and handed the unenviable assignment of editing the poetry of crusty old Fred Jones, a major donor to the campus literary magazine. For Morgan, who loathes amateur poets, this is pretty bad news. Jones is just as dismayed with his new editor's appearance ("Is this guy on the dope? Don't saddle me with no dopehead"). But Jones has surprising skills: he quickly takes care of Morgan's corpse problem and, you guessed it, he turns out to be one hell of a poet. Besides the dead girl, there are a number of other comic plot threads: a street thug with a bag of stolen dope assumes the identity of one of his victims and attends the university as a poetry graduate student; an undergrad reporter writing a story on Morgan quickly drags him into bed; and the bad guy owner of the stolen dope rolls into town bent on revenge. Gischler deftly weaves together these elements and more and comes up with plenty of laughs (and an equal number of groaners), all imbedded within a small war's worth of bullets and blood. This is a far-fetched but fast and viciously enjoyable read. (Feb. 3) Forecast: Connoisseurs of wacky fiction will enjoy both of Gischler's novels, and while this professor of creative writing at Rogers State University in Oklahoma probably doesn't front a band like the irrepressible Friedman, he's got a newcomer's vigor that some of the Kinkster's later novels have lacked. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Pop-pop go the guns of academe in a follow-up to the Edgar-nominated Gun Monkeys (not reviewed). Why is the campus at Eastern Oklahoma U. suddenly littered with nonacademic corpses? It all starts when Harold Jenks, a second-banana drug dealer in East St. Louis, decides he needs a lifestyle change. His restlessness leads to murder, stolen identity, and the arrival of cold-blooded Jenks-taking the place of the late Sherman Ellis-at Eastern Oklahoma as a graduate student in English. In his poke is $100,000 worth of crack cocaine belonging to Red Zach, a top banana who will doubtless miss it. In the meantime, Jay Morgan, poet, boozer, womanizer, and one-year-contract professor, struggles in a sea of troubles. There's a dead girl in his bed, and he can't quite remember how she got there. From the ranks of the living come a crazed Pulitzer-winning poet who's supposed to be in Prague but isn't, and a small, tough, aging mobster who also writes "poetry on steroids." Morgan, Jenks, and other picaresque types hook up just in time for the Red Zach gang to ride into town to reclaim the stolen stash and cue the gunfight at the admin building. The tale, careening erratically between satire and shoot-'em-up, is violent, even brutal at times. Although some of it is funny, you'll look in vain for a character to like in this sorry cast. Agent: Noah Lukeman

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Morgan's eyes flickered open, and he realized that his naked ass was touching another naked ass under the covers.


Visiting Professor Jay Morgan sat up in bed slowly, tried to remember how he'd hung himself over. The slim girl in a fetal curl under the covers next to him, Annie Walsh, didn't wake. A whole semester had slipped away on his one-year contract at Eastern Oklahoma University before he'd struck pay dirt.

She was nice, young and fit. Eager.

Morgan was short and soft around the middle. His black hair, sharpened into a deadly widow's peak, was long, pulled into a tight ponytail. But he had good cheekbones, and his eyes were a haunting blue. Morgan knew how to flash those eyes at young students.

Last evening's dark blur streaked with neon. The dance club on University Drive. Annie packed tight in denim and a black tank top, red hair shaved close. First-year master's student, a Sharon Olds wanna-be.

Morgan found boxers on the floor, slipped into them. He crept to the kitchen, tile freezing under his bare feet, started a pot of coffee, and watched it drip itself into existence. He filled a mug, drank with his eyes closed.

The phone rang. He grabbed it quickly. "Hello."

"Morgan? It's Dean Whittaker. We had an eight o'clock appointment."

"That's Wednesday."

"This is Wednesday."

Morgan's wristwatch said 8:37. "I'll be right there."

Morgan ran in and out of the shower, threw on black pants and a green Hawaiian shirt with a picture of flowered Elvis playing the ukulele. Brushing his teeth almost made him puke. He grabbed his pea coat, shrugged into it.

Oklahoma winter, not so much snow but plenty of ice and cold rain. How had he ended up in this redneck backwater? Oh, yeah. He needed the job. Every year a new campus, the life of a gypsy professor.

A flash of skin caught his eye as he passed through the bedroom. The girl.

He cleared his throat. "I have to go."


"There's coffee."

More nothing.

"Lock up when you leave, okay?"

He pulled the door closed behind him, groaned his way down the sidewalk, and climbed into his twelve-year-old Buick. He pointed it toward Eastern Oklahoma University's main campus, muttering inventive curses at Dean Whittaker in which the word cocksucker figured prominently.

Morgan stopped at the secretary's desk on the way into the English Department. "We have any aspirin, Tina?"

"I have Motrin in my purse."


He took the bottle from her, spilled five pills into his palm, and swallowed them dry.

"There's a girl here to see you," Tina said.

Morgan turned, fear kicking around in his gut. He thought Annie had somehow--impossibly--raced there ahead of him, coiled to spring charges of sexual misconduct.

It was a different girl, compact, tan, round-faced, and fresh, with black plastic glasses perched on the end of her nose, brown hair wild and shaggy. She bounced out of her chair and offered her hand to Morgan. He took it and shook, squinting at her, hoping to figure out what she was, if he was supposed to know her.

"Professor Morgan, I'm Ginny Conrad."

"Oh." Who? The voice was silky, familiar.

"I'm supposed to do a ride-along." The edges of Ginny's mouth quivered, hinted at a frown. "I'm supposed to follow you around. A day in the life of a poet--for the school paper. Remember?"

"Yes, of course I remember." No he didn't.

Morgan rubbed his temples with his thumbs. He looked at Ginny again, tried to make himself interested. But she had too much on the hips, too fleshy around the neck and cheeks.

"This isn't a good day, Ginny." He didn't have the stomach for questions right now. His head pounded.

A real frown this time from the girl, panic in the eyes. "But I have a deadline. My editor--"

Dean Whittaker leaned out of his office. "Morgan."


Morgan left Ginny standing there, the girl flowing into his wake, "but, but, but . . ." like an outboard motor about to stall. Morgan pulled the dean's office door closed and cut her off.

"Sit down," Whittaker barked. He was a huge man with a big voice. His full black beard, barrel chest, and concrete shoulders made him look like a bear. Whittaker was also interim chair of the English Department until a search committee could find somebody permanent. Whittaker's dissertation had been on ladies' costuming in Elizabethan theater.

Morgan began to lower himself into the overstuffed chair across from Whittaker.

"Not there!" Whittaker yelled.

Morgan leapt aside like he'd been hit with a cattle prod. He looked into the chair to see why he shouldn't sit.

The reason was an old man.

"I'm terribly sorry. I didn't see--I'm just out of it today."

The old man scowled but said nothing. His thin, nearly transparent skin clung to his skull like wet tissue paper. Bald. Small, shrunken inside a brown sweater and a pair of khaki pants pulled up almost to his armpits. A red stone the size of a doorknob on his pinkie finger.

"Take the seat by the bookcase." Whittaker glared.

"Sorry." Morgan squeezed between two giant bookcases. A narrow chair without armrests.

Whittaker sat, pulled at his tie, and fidgeted with a pencil.

"Morgan, this is Fred Jones. He's very generously donated enough money to keep Prairie Music operational for the next ten years."

"That's extremely generous," Morgan said. "Extremely."

And surprising as hell. The university had slashed the budget from under the third-rate literary journal, and it looked like they might have to go from a quarterly to an annual. Or maybe even scrap the journal altogether.

"Mr. Jones is a lover of fine literature and an amateur poet himself," Whittaker said. "He's been working quite hard on his own project, a volume of very personal poetry."

Whittaker was nailing Morgan to the back of his chair with his eyes, and Morgan realized he was supposed to say something about this but hadn't a clue what it should be. He took a shot at it.

"That's great." He nodded, raised his eyebrows to convey deep sincerity. "Absolutely great. I wish more people would develop their creative sides."

It was a fantastic lie. The amateur poet was a cancer. Morgan's brief stints as an assistant editor for a number of literary journals reinforced this belief. Every day he'd arrive at the office greeted by a towering stack of hideous verse. Everyone wrote poetry. Schoolteachers and teenage girls and spotty adolescent boys who couldn't catch a girl's eye. Christian crusaders who dumped their message into abstract verse, old men who committed the birth of the latest grand-offspring to rhyme. Housewives who scrawled their bland, unhappy lives into greeting-card drivel and refused to believe that their lives were as ordinarily miserable as everyone else's. They pressed on, relentless, minds clouded with the delusion that their agonies were somehow special or interesting and must therefore be shared with the world.

And the poetry came in like a flood, a tidal wave. It arrived dozens of pages at a time, folded into sweaty, smudged thirds and overstuffed into flimsy #10 envelopes that burst at the corners. It arrived as a wad of Scotch tape, or held together by string, handwritten in red pen, i's dotted with little hearts.

"I said, what do you think of that, Morgan? Sound okay?" Whittaker eyed him, clearly annoyed.

"Uh . . . that might be okay," Morgan said. He hadn't heard a word. He was too busy picturing a group of beret-clad amateur poets being run down by a team of Clydesdales.

The old man shifted in his seat, glowered at Whittaker, spoke for the first time. "Is this guy on the dope? Don't saddle me with no dopehead." His voice strained like an old sedan trying to crank. A deep Northeastern accent. New York? Philadelphia? Morgan had no idea, but the old man wasn't an Okie, that was for sure.

"You can count on Morgan, Mr. Jones. He's rock solid." Whittaker shot a look at Morgan that said or else.

"That's right," Morgan said. "I was just deep in thought, trying to figure the best way to approach the project."

Fred Jones stood, joints creaking. "It ain't goddamn rocket science." He made for the door.

Whittaker and Morgan stood as well. Morgan opened the door for Jones.

Whittaker said, "Morgan and I will work out the details, Mr. Jones."

"Don't take forever," Jones said without turning. "I'm only getting older." And he was gone, shuffling out of the office and down the hall, an old man a lot bigger than his bones.

"For Christ's sake, Morgan, you could show a little interest." Whittaker flopped back heavy in his chair.

"I'm interested," Morgan said. What the hell did I agree to?

"Jones doesn't think so. You better act fascinated as hell when you see him again. It's not like folks walk in and hand the department a big fat check all the time."

Morgan wondered why he was going to see Jones again. He couldn't ask. Whittaker would know he hadn't been listening. "So how do you suggest going about, uh, the project?"

"The hell if I know. Just keep him happy. Maybe the old buzzard will put us in his will. Don't you have a class?"

Morgan looked at his watch. He did have a class. It had started three minutes ago.

Outside the dean's office he saw Ginny the reporter coming for him with her hand raised. Fortunately, the department was crowded with undergrads trying to get their schedules changed before the end of the drop/add period. Morgan ducked into the flow of students, pretended not to see Ginny as he scooted down the hall. He didn't quite run. But he walked very, very fast.

"DelPrego." Morgan looked up from the roll sheet, saw a bored youth in a T-shirt and jeans lift his hand. Hair shaggy and over his neck, dishwater strands falling over his eyes.

He went through eight grad students like that, all dripping attitude. One actually wore an ascot. A goddamn ascot! What the hell was that kid's name? He scanned the roll. Timothy Lancaster III. Christ. Morgan made a mental note to humiliate and demean the kid soon.

He called the last name on the list. "Annie Walsh."

Morgan marked her absent, then asked the class, "Has anyone . . . uh . . . seen Annie Walsh?" Good one, Jay. Nobody suspects a thing.

"She wasn't in my eight o'clock class." The kid in the white T-shirt. DelPrego.

The Lancaster kid cleared his throat. "It's been my experience that Annie Walsh has some sort of allergic reaction to early-morning classes."

Morgan wondered if the girl was still home in his bed. He supposed she might have a whale of a hangover.

Morgan pulled Lancaster's poem from the bottom of the pile. "Okay, let's start with you, Timmy."

"Timothy, sir."

"Eh? What?"

"I prefer Timothy to Timmy."

The DelPrego kid snickered.

Morgan's predatory smile didn't touch his eyes. "Your poem's called . . ." He squinted at his copy. "What is it?"

" 'The Fallible Quiescence of a Wrathful Jehovah.' "


"It's about the disparity between free will and--"

"What's this about in line seven?" Morgan asked. "Fuzzy nut sacks . . ."

Lancaster's lips moved as he counted lines. "Nut soldiers. It concerns--"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

DelPrego squirmed in his seat, bit his bottom lip. He couldn't stand it.

Lancaster had a little sheen of sweat on his forehead. "I use rodentia to symbolize the lower societal strata--"


Lancaster said, "It's really a metaphor for a much broader--"

"It's squirrels, isn't it?" Morgan said.

"Yes, sir, but--"

"Your poem's about squirrels, Timmy."

DelPrego's face had purpled, his shoulders shaking with barely controlled laughter. He stuck the heel of his hand in his mouth to stifle himself. Others in the class giggled openly.

Morgan sifted the pile of poems, moved DelPrego's to the top.


Harold Jenks was one tough nigger, and everybody knew it. You had to be tough to work for Red Zach.

Jenks liked to call himself the King of East St. Louis, but that was sort of a joke too many of the neighborhood folks took seriously. More accurately, he was king of about seven square blocks between the bus station and the Missouri State Welfare Offices. But everyone knew Jenks was Red Zach's boy. That made Jenks important.

Jenks and Spoon Oliver hung out in the alley near the bus station. They sipped beer and smoked and waited for something to happen. It was after midnight. When you worked for Red Zach, you didn't keep regular hours.

Jenks's boy Spoon nudged Jenks in the ribs and pointed down the alley. "Check it out."

Some nigger coming down the alley, carrying big suitcases. Jenks watched a minute, puffed his cheap cigar, a Philly Blunt he bought at the convenience store along with a sixteen-ounce can of Bud Light in a little paper sack.

"So what?" Jenks drank his beer.

"Toll," Spoon said.

Jenks shrugged. "Shit."

"I say we toll him. This our alley or ain't it?"

"We ain't charged toll since we was sixteen," Jenks said. "We work for Zach now."

"I'm cash short," Spoon said. "I say we do it."

Jenks sighed, tossed down the cigar stub, and stamped it out. "Okay, but don't go all crazy."

Jenks backed up behind the Dumpster, gave the "stay down" motion to his partner Spoon on the other side of the alley. Let that nigger get closer, then we jack his ass good. Only I got to keep an eye on Spoon. He's over the edge lately. Jenks suspected his boy had developed a coke twitch, dipping into the merchandise.

When the victim got between them, Jenks and Oliver leapt. Poor nigger dropped the bags and tried to run, but Jenks had a fistful of his jacket, and Oliver tackled his legs. They all went down in a pile.

Jenks saw the kid was about his age, maybe twenty-two. He yelled, but Jenks twisted, got on top of him. He punched down hard across his face, twice. A third time broke the kid's lip open, and dark blood smeared down his chin. Jenks let up when he saw the blood.

Oliver stuck a knife to the sucker's throat. "Give it up, boy."

"Let me go," the kid said. "Take the bags. I got money. Take it."

"Shut up." Jenks gut-punched the kid. He pulled the wallet out of the kid's jacket, counted the bills. "Eighty fucking greenbacks. Shit."

He pulled the kid up by the shirt. "All you got is eighty fucking dollars, motherfucker. Shit. Not even worth jacking your ass."


"Shut up, nigger."

"Aw, shit," Spoon said. "We got to kill this boy."

"Please, no, I--"

"I said shut your cunt mouth." Jenks rapped him on the nose.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Victor Gischler teaches creative writing at Rogers State University in Claremore, Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping through his pants. His wife, Jackie, thinks he is a silly, silly individual. He drinks black, black coffee all day long and sleeps about seven minutes a night. Victor’s first novel, Gun Monkeys, was nominated for the Edgar Award.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Pistol Poets 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Eastern Oklahoma University visiting poetry professor Jay Morgan wakes up to find Annie Walsh sleeping so soundly she seems dead in his bed. However, before he can wake her up, Dean Whittaker orders him to come to his office where Jay is assigned a task that only would go to a professor considered lower than the bottom rung of the food chain. In other words as a visiting teacher with a one year contract that can lead to abuse and misuse, Jay must edit the poetry of grumpy geriatric Fred Jones........................................ Morgan detests the works of amateur wannabes who make up much of the poetry groups and contributors at universities, but loathes even more student reporters assigned to harangue him. Shockingly Jones actually has talent as a poet and at body disposal as the girl in Jay¿s bed sleeps like a corpse because she is a corpse. Other people also are killed as Jay finds himself in the milieu of a true dead poet¿s society caused by stolen dope leading to the thief hiding as a student....................... Though the story line seems thirty degrees beyond improbable, readers will not care as THE PISTOL POETS is an amusing irreverent who-done-it tale that satirizes universities and amateur sleuth mysteries. Jay with the help of Jones keeps the tale somewhat focused though clearly even they perform as stand up comics. Not for everyone, readers who get pleasure from a jocular academic mystery with a joke a sentence including some about people that died will want to read this multi-plotted story in which each subplot adds to the humor and ridicule of icons.............................. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an awe inspiring example of the academic in lit. Seriously bad. Every self conscious word.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PennyDread More than 1 year ago
Not my usual read, but I enjoyed it. I have a weird love for universities, well, learning institutions, and enjoy reading stories that take place with educators as characters. This was a fairly easy sleuth type novel, that was funny, sometimes over-the-top a bit, but I would recommend it. Nice escapism
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