Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press


A Novel

by Mark Haskell Smith

“Smith’s energetic thriller is an ode to the hard-boiled Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, spun out in brighter-than-life Starburst colors.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date October 23, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4335-8
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

What could cause Bob to give up his job at the Los Angeles pathology lab that demands so little of him, where he can play Tetris and Web surf whenever he wants? What could lead him to walk out on his beautiful girlfriend, who makes her living as a masturbation coach? What could ake him risk everything and ultimately transform him into Roberto, a kingpinn the Los Angeles Mexican mafia? An erotic tattoo. But not just any naughty skin ink, the Mona Lisa of erotic tattoos, painted on a severed arm, which lands on Bob’s desk one morning.

Bob may have fallen for the woman in the tattoo, but he’s not the only one who wants the arm. There’s the telenovela-addicted mobster who lost the arm, the Jefe who needs to keep the arm out of the clutches of the police, a backstabbing cannabis aficionado-Wharton MBA, and a wine snob LAPD detective who knows the arm is the evidence he needs to bring down the entire Mexican mafia.


“[Mark Haskell Smith’s] characters include a not-so-usual suspect lineup of hustlers, sex addicts, supermodels, failed rock stars, wine-buff cops, psychos and flakes. Haskell Smith writes well, especially about sex and food, and the multilayered plots move so fast they feel fresh. Think Elmore Leonard meets Mario Batali.” —Richard Rayner, Los Angeles Times

“Smith’s energetic thriller is an ode to the hard-boiled Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, spun out in brighter-than-life Starburst colors.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A weird, darkly hilarious contribution to crime fiction.” —Los Angeles Daily News, “Six Great Crime Novels Set in Southern California”

“Completely bizarre, over the top, funny and . . . well . . . moist. Highly recommended.” —Donna Moore, Mystery Scene

“A wildly imaginative comic novel.” —Booklist

“Dark and mordantly funny . . . a real machine-gun narrative—the man can tell a story, oh, yes, indeed.” —T. C. Boyle

“[A] gritty, entertaining black comedy.” —Publishers Weekly



“This is so fuckin’ cool, man.” Morris burst through the doors of the lab carrying what looked like a log wrapped in black plastic. His white cotton smock, bearing the name United Pathology, flapped around his bony frame as he rushed forward. Morris was excited, breathless. He had something really good. His sneakers squeaked on the tile floor as he skidded to a stop in front of a young man with tall black hair.

“Bob. Dude. Check this out.”

Bob didn’t look up from the computer. He slouched his skateboarder-lanky body in a stylish black chair designed to improve his posture, draping one of his legs across the desk so that one scuffy black shoe touched the side of the monitor while his other foot twitched to some unheard autonomic beat on the floor. He kept his eyes on the screen, thoughtfully stroking his trim goatee, as he scrolled through a digital gallery of young Canadian virgins on the Internet.

He eyed the young blondes intently, staring at their pert breasts, ice-cream-scoop butts, and spread patches of pink surrounded by wisps of blond curls. They could have been Swedish or maybe Norwegian, but they were definitely from some frosty part of the world. Cold and clean and young. Their bodies promising sex fresh as mountain air, clear as spring water, and as pure as new-fallen snow. Like a beer ad. Bob twisted in his seat, his pants suddenly too small.

Morris cleared his throat.

“Dude, it’s totally grisly.”

“Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Undaunted by Bob’s lack of enthusiasm, Morris put the package down on the desk in front of him and began to unwrap it.

“It smells a little.”

“Then don’t open it.”

“I thought you liked tattoos.”

Bob heaved a sigh and moused his way out of the porn site.

“Put it in a tray, all right?”

Morris nodded and crossed the lab to the sink. He pulled out a large stainless steel examining tray and carried it back.

“Good idea, Bob. These things are always seepin’ a little.”

Morris gently plopped the package in the tray and pulled the plastic away, unveiling his prize. Bob recoiled at the sight, instinctively covering his mouth and nose. Morris looked at him, surprised.

“You gonna puke?”

Bob shook his head.

“Check out the tattoos, dude. Check ’em out.”

Morris picked up the severed arm and rolled it over. Congealing blood oozed out and smeared the surgical tray. It was a tough-looking arm. Muscular and hairy. Tattoos were scattered up and down, inside and out. The letters H-O-L-A etched into the knuckles. Morris rotated the arm again and Bob saw an exceptionally beautiful tattoo of a woman lying naked on her back with her legs in the air. A man lay with her, his head buried between her thighs.

“What’dya think, man?”

Bob covered his nostrils and leaned in close. The tattoo was skillfully drawn, with real flair. The woman’s body seemed to quiver, as if she were coming.

“Good, isn’t it?”

Bob looked up at Morris.

“It’s amazing.”

Bob opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a Polaroid camera.

“Rotate the arm a couple of inches up.”

“Like this?”


Morris complied. Bob got close to the arm and then pushed the button. Flash, whir, ding. The camera spit out a photo. Bob stuck the picture in his pocket and put the camera back in the drawer. He looked at Morris.

“I’m thinking about making a coffee run. You want some?”

“Let me go. I’ve spent too much time with the arm. I need a break.”

Bob looked at the arm.

“What are we supposed to do with it anyway?”

Morris wrapped the appendage in the plastic.
“I gotta take it to the lab at Parker Center tomorrow morning after they drain it or whatever.”

Bob shot Morris a look of disbelief.

“This is evidence?”

Morris shifted his weight from foot to foot, something he did when he was nervous or really had to pee. He took his sunglasses out of his pocket and stuck them on his nose so he wouldn’t have to look Bob in the eye.

“Bob. Dude. I don’t know that it’s evidence for sure.”

“Is it from a crime scene?”

Morris finished wrapping the arm.

“Double latte, right?”

Bob shook his head.

“Whatever, man.”

Morris spun on his heel and left. Bob sighed, picked up the arm, and walked it over to a large freezer. He swung the big silver door open and slid the arm onto a shelf filled with hundreds of other lumps, bumps, cysts, clippings, cuttings, kibbles, and bits. Bob sat back down in front of the computer, but the blondes had lost their allure.

He pulled the Polaroid out of his pocket and watched it slowly finish developing. It was a clear picture of the tattoo. The artist was obviously very talented. Bob looked closer, studying the woman. Intricately drawn, her breasts hung voluptuously, spreading across her chest and swinging down just a little toward her armpits. She had a full head of long black hair that flowed away from her body. Her legs, arms, and ass were perfectly proportioned, not thin or skinny; there was nothing girly about her, she had a womanly weight. A sensual mass. Her mouth was a half smile, half grimace, as her body bucked and kicked in the throes of orgasm. Her eyes wide open as if surprised by the sensation.

Bob looked at her and felt a strange sensation of his own. It was as if he knew her. Or maybe, closer to the truth, as if she were the woman he wanted to know. His idea of what a sexy woman looked like. Bob felt a pang of jealousy when he looked at the man’s body. Although Bob was considered by many people to be a good-looking dude in relatively robust shape, he couldn’t compete with the taut and articulated muscles, the pure sexual power of the man in the tattoo. All that energy focused between a woman’s legs.

Bob ran his finger over the Polaroid, following the line that ran from her thigh to her belly to her breasts to her lips. He surprised himself when a little moan came out of his mouth.

Bob absently traced a line with his finger slowly down his chest, across his belly, to his crotch. He felt a swelling.

It was a very good tattoo.