Cover Image: Zig Zag

Zig Zag

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Zig Zag is a remarkable debut novel that blends elements of a classic heist story/crime caper with stoner culture, adding a side order of vintage cowboy panache. If ever a book cried out for a screen adaptation, it's this one; as I read it I kept thinking about who would play these characters on-screen and how amazing the soundtrack would be. J.D. O'Brien's writing really effectively communicates a sense of place, and in Harry S. Robatore he's created a character whose further escapades need to be told. Looking forward to more from this new author. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book!
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Great crime fiction! I liked this book a lot. When you take into consideration that it's a debut novel it's very impressive.  Basically, an aging cosmic cowboy who runs a low-end bail bond service has to run down a hapless young guy who is on the run (and in way over his head) with a scheming femme fatale. 

From dive bars to legal(ish) marijuana dealers to rundown motels the chase zigs and zags across the isolated regions of the Mojave Desert. What seems like a simple enough task gets more difficult as personal vices, bad choices, and (literal) wrong turns create a clusterf**k of epic proportions.

Chock-full of wonderful, well drawn characters; boozers, potheads, and plain old losers - most every one an oddball of one sort or another.  By far the most interesting character in this book is the sixty-something bondsman Harry Robatore. Originally from Texas, the former psychedelic country musician, turned P.I., turned bail bondsman has been in California for a good long time but he's never lost his down-home savvy and no nonsense perspective. There's a pensive, often melancholy, aspect to the story... The aging cowboy out on a modern day bounty hunt in a part of the desert Southwest that's equal parts untamed past and apocalyptic future. 

There's a definite Elmore Leonard flavor to the plot (dialogue isn't bad either but no one ever really comes close to Leonard in that respect). The rampant drug and alcohol abuse on the part of just about everybody begs a passing nod to the late great James Crumley. Overall it has a familiar feel without seeming too derivative. I'll be on the lookout for more from author J. D. O'Brien.

Bottom line: Great hard-boiled crime fiction that's not so much funny as witty.
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J.D. O'Brien's Zig Zag follows Harry, a washed up bail bondsman with a love of westerns, and Capri, a young woman who set into motion her plans to rob the marijuana dispensary where she works. The chase blazes from LA to deep in the desert and back, focusing on the unique character of the underbelly of the west. 

O’Brien has an interesting voice, which has a lot of potential for future success, and the plot promises a lot of excitement and stoner comedy. However, neither are fully realized. 

The novel starts with a lot of character development, though the character remain mostly flat. Harry’s girlfriend, Ruby, is a caricature; she’s an airhead—and a nurse—who takes a few beats to pick up Harry’s dad jokes and they only thing she likes more than weed and tequila is sex. I had to set the book down and walk away when, during a sex scene, she’s described as “windmilling around with the ay, papi, the si, papi, geysering all over the bed.” Meanwhile, the antagonist and only other woman in the novel Capri, is a calculating manipulator who uses sex to get men, particularly her immature boyfriend Ted, to do what she wants. 

Sitting somewhere between western, stoner comedy, pulp noir, and the foggy memory of an acid trip in 1972, Zig Zag struggles to find its footing. O’Brien is clearly a storyteller and I fully expect future works to show it.
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"Capri watches Elmer stack $ 1,800 in hundreds and twenties, counting it out twice, on the kitchen table. The fucker haggled the price of a pound down from $ 2,500. Talking to her like she was an idiot the whole time, satisfied with himself. He wanted to buy even more but the price he offered was insulting and he said it would have required a trip to the bank anyway. She just wants to be done with this guy.

While he was getting the money together, she noticed there was more in the safe.... And he left it open. It’s all she’s thinking about it on the walk back to the car. The old bastard giving her the short end of the stick. Then handing them a bag of candy on the way out like they were kids on Halloween. 

When they get to the car, Ted gets in the passenger seat and roots through the bag of edibles. Capri grabs the tire iron out of the trunk and walks back toward the trailer." p134

ZIG ZAG by J.D. O'Brien has a fantastic villian. I love Capri even more when O'Brien turns up her evil factor, like when she robs Elmer in the scene I excerpted above, and afterward, considers shooting an ostrich out of curiosity. Who can love an evil sex worker who connives an idiot manchild, takes a tire iron to a slick old dirtbag, and wonders about shooting big bird? Me. I totally can.

Capri is one of only two woman characters in this entire novel; the other is Ruby, the protagonist, Harry's maybe sorta girlfriend--but also a spritely girl much younger than he, a total stoner but also a self-sufficient professional, mommish but never marmish, sexpot nurse. No, not the kind dressed in white rubber and a little hat. (Well, maybe sometimes, I guess; the descriptions of their sex lives are pretty graphic. Not in the sexy way.) She's a real nurse, an RN.

ZIG ZAG is full of asides and soliloquys, sometimes spanning whole chapters, that do nothing but lengthen the manuscript. Maybe because that's how stoners think and tell stories? Regardless of cleverness, I thought it made for a difficult read.

This one just wasn't for me, which made me sad. I was excited for it, *and* the writer is a longtime bartender, like my M. It's not the kind of book I would tell readers to avoid; rather, I would tell them it's an acquired taste. Like a lot of liquors.

Thank you NetGalley, J.D. O'Brien, and Schaffner Press for the ARC of ZIG ZAG.

Rating 2.5 stars, rounded up for my girl Capri
Finished September 2022
Recommended for fans of stoner comedies, drinking comedies, crime capers, drug capers, character driven stories
TW⚠️ excessive alcohol and drug consumption, excessive violence, guns and shootings, police and law enforcement, prison (off page, mostly)
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I absolutely loved the plot for Zig Zag. It had the "good guy" vs. "bad girl" trope but in a unique way. Capri gets the novel idea to rob the dispensary that she works at, with the help of her dumb boyfriend who is desperate for her approval and love. When things go south, so do they, literally. It's a cat and mouse game with a current setting but also feels very old school. The bail bondsman Harry is a no muss, no fuss guy and he'd rather be at home, but he's out hunting down Capri and her boyfriend. 

While the plot was fantastic, I personally found there to be too much dialogue that didn't move the story forward. There was a lot of character building for people who weren't really the main focus of the story so for me, it just kind of made me want to set the book down. But when the scenes with more action came into play, I was drawn in completely. I think this could make a great movie though, it felt kind of like a movie as I read it.

Overall, I'd say it was a pretty good book, maybe just not exactly what I was looking for or expecting, but if you like the wild west and enjoy gritty crime, this book might be for you.
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Surprisingly good story. It's impressive that this is the author's first novel. I hope this finds a large audience. The writing is great, and the story is fun, engaging, funny, and more. Recommended. I look forward to JD's next work.

Thanks very much for the free ARC for review!!
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Really solid debut.  It is a fun, pulpy, contemporary western bubbling with the seedy characters of Los Angeles's darker corners.  It is definitely a novel of its place, the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, a place I have lived and know well.  The Author knows its streets and locales, often referencing them by name.  Mr. O'Brien does a good job of giving you a feel for the place, even if you hadn't been there.  Mostly though this is just an entertaining crime story.  There is no literary ambition or social message and that is perfect.  The author does the one job that all authors have, though so many lose sight of:  make the reader want to turn to the next page and continue reading.  The central character is a joy to follow.  An elderly cowboy, at the bottom rung of the shady bail bondsman business with a best friend who is the proprietor of a dying dive bar.  Their antagonists are the best friend's son, a dumb deadbeat desperately hanging on to the affections of a beautiful former prostitute who is looking to make a big score on the marijuana dispensary she begrudgingly works for.  And things pick up and continue from there.  If you are looking for an entertaining read, this really does the job.  Good debut novel.
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I picked this book because it had an interesting narrative and I wasn’t disappointed. It felt hazy like being a room where there’s a lot of marijuana is burning and it really suits the plot. Story is focused on Harry who is a frenzied bondsman who goes behind a couple escaping with a stolen lot of weed. The characters are written is what is needed for the story. I initially felt that the introduction to Harry about his work was kind of boring and not much relevant. But rest, the story played out well and the expectation was fulfilled. It wouldn’t it is the best book, but if anyone is a fan of the wild-west, riding horses and weed, this would be a fun filled ride.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC for my honest review.
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This was a great, fun read. The characters are human. The story line plausible. There was no sudden reveal, which is great to see, and the story played out in a way which was logical but surprised. Zig Zag was exactly what I was looking for. Best of luck to the author. O'Brien has a unique, easy going, and interesting voice.
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A bail bondsman and an imcompetent lawyer embark on drug and alcohol-filled road trip full of mishaps and mayhem in search of a scarpering client.
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This book surprised me, in a good way. I’m not sure it’s literary fiction, but it IS well-written…at times laugh-out-loud funny and, at other times, frenzied, like an action movie. The story revolves around Harry, a not-afraid-of-anything bail bondsman in a small town near the deserts of western US. When local dancer Capri talks her boyfriend Ted into stealing a load of high-quality marijuana from the dispensary that Capri works for, it sets in motion a chase involving Harry, Ted’s lawyer Gus, and the dispensary’s slightly unhinged law enforcement. The race to track down the fugitives builds to a fight in a western ghost town and the result is downright violent.

No one in Zig Zag is ever not smoking marijuana…it’s like a haze that follows the characters around. And no one passes by on a drink (or five or ten) when there’s one to be had. I was thoroughly entertained by the whole of it. Most of the time, it’s good old western fun, but sometimes it’s downright slapstick, like the time Harry and Gus take to horses when their car breaks down. Let’s just say drinking and smoking don’t mix well with riding horses. I recommend this to anyone who likes the wild west with a side of pot and a good dose of humor. My husband is already reading it because I put it in his hands with the directive to “read”.  

Thanks to NetGalley and Schaffner Press for providing me with an e-ARC.
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This was a fantastic book that I loved! Set in the L.A. where the glitz and glamour aren't, this is a tale of Harry, the cowboy-obsessed, never-was bail bondsman tasked with finding the son of his favorite bar's owner. Populated by characters filled with various forms of regret, the writing slowly lulls you into an overwhelming feeling of mellow and calm. The plot flows as smoothly as the weed everyone in this novel is smoking. Where O'Brien really excels though is in his descriptions of the various towns that the characters pass through. I'm from the Reno area and he crushed it. If I had to give a two-word description of this novel, I'd go with cowboy noir. The only happy ending in the book is the feeling of satisfaction you'll have when you're finished. I definitely plan on getting my own copy so I can lose myself in O'Brien's prose. One of the best books I've read in some time.
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A lot of fun, but while I thought it would be extremely my taste, it ended up not satisfying whatever I needed it to. I enjoyed O'Brien's writing!
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I’m the first to rate and review this book. A privilege and a pleasure when the book is good. So, let’s do this…
Reading outside of my comfort zone sometimes means (armchair)traveling outside of my comfort zone. The West - wild wild or otherwise – has never been my jam. Not the cowboys, not the dust, not the culture nor the patois. And yet…
This book charmed me completely. Surprisingly so.
Its protagonist, the self-style rhinestone cowboy bail bondsman/bounty hunter, and the various and colorful characters he interacts with and encounters as he tries to locate a small time criminal who jumped bail were singular delights of offbeat randomness and delightful aphorisms. The West was a character too, vivid and cinematic. In fact, the entire book comes to life as you read it – and plays like one of those offbeat crime drama/comedies. My sleepy brain can only come up with Fargo for comparison, which I know isn’t ideal and way off geographically, but there it is.
All in all, this book was oodles of fun. A most impressive debut novel for an author who knows how to zig and zag his narrative to tell a good story. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
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