reviewed by Eric Ellis
In reading The Get by Dietrich Kalteis, the first things that came to mind were films of the Cohen Brothers and the film Killing Me Softly, all of which often portray serious subjects with the type of cynical and comeuppance humor thrown in where often one is not sure whether to laugh or grimace.
Lenny Ovitz and Gabe Zoller are crime partners, with Lenny being the smarter of the two, which is not saying much, and Gabe the more violent (just mentally picture Scoot McNairy and the often explosive Ben Mendelsohn from Killing Them Softly and there you have Lenny and Gabe).
In the novel, it is 1960s Toronto with a whole lot of crime going on.
Unfortunately for them, Lenny and Gabe are a pair of Sad-Sack numb-skulls who can’t seem to do much right while ignoring the old axiom of stop digging when finding oneself in a hole.
The two collect protection payments from people and area businesses for Ernie Zimm. Zimm is a temperamental man and fond of throwing violent tantrums when displeased and especially when his gofers come back light in their collections.
When the pair grow weary of low pay for long hours, they develop a scheme of their own to buy two rat-trap apartment buildings for renovation and renting. To finance their scheme, and to avoid the ire and parasitic participation of Zimm, they decide to borrow money from a more dangerous loan shark named Ungerman, The Chicken King.
While all this is going on, Lenny’s wife Paulina, an attractive woman higher up on the social ladder than Lenny has ever been, realizes their marriage has been in a downward spiral heading toward the ground faster than a man without a parachute and wants out of the toxic relationship immediately.
Lenny, thinking differently, develops further schemes in an attempt to persuade her otherwise, which only makes matters worse. While all this going on, Paulina is being romanced by an oily Lothario undercover cop masquerading as a tennis pro at her country club in hopes of developing evidence to arrest Lenny and eventually Zimm.
Joining the mix is the elderly father to Paulina who happens to be a crafty watchmaker/jeweler and one others often underestimate as just another frail senior-citizen prime for ripping off.
The novel then follows all these characters and others as they seem to chaotically bounce around in all sorts of unpredictable directions with eruptions of violence.
The Get has been one of the most enjoyable crime novels I have read this year and while the novel is humorous, it is not slap-stick humor, but humor with a bite.
I also enjoyed the writing style of The Get and was surprised how it was different from previous novels I have read by Kalteis, especially that of his last one, Nobody From Somewhere. Opening the pages and reading of the exploits of a crowd of miscreants with all of their own self-centered intentions and where nothing goes right when it comes to the meanderings of Lenny and Gabe, was such a pleasant surprise and is a clear indication I need to read even more novels by Dietrich Kalteis.
The Get is highly recommended to readers that enjoy crime novels with a sly and good natured nasty point of view. It is set to be published in June 2023 and was provided through ECW Press and Netgalley for the promise of a fair review.