The only thing wrong with author Scott Phillips' visit to St. Louis is that it comes just after, rather than just before, Christmas. His debut novel, The Ice Harvest, is a tale of debauchery, murder and gore that takes place entirely on Christmas Eve.
The book concerns low-level mobster Charlie, who decides to steal a pile of the syndicate's money and leave town. He makes a final tour of the operations in his bailiwick, including a strip joint or two, an adult bookstore/peep-show arcade and a more-than-massage parlor. Complications arise when he's unable to locate his partner in embezzlement -- or, at least, most of his partner. In his accomplice's garage he discovers part of a finger squashed in a vise, along with a pool of blood on the concrete. That's when the pace of the sick humor and the violence really picks up.
The grim cover of The Ice Harvest depicts a road coated in cracking winter ice and splotched with blood. The back cover features blurbs from other writers, who compare Phillips' prose to that of gutter-dwellers James Crumley and Jim Thompson. In between, the book includes much more hilarity -- and vulgarity -- than you might suppose.
When one character's mother refuses to watch his kids on Christmas Eve, he informs her, "As far as I'm concerned you can grease up that Yule log of yours and ram it up your shithole!" When another fellow is serendipitously invited to join his new lady friend in the alley, he returns to the bar and reports to Charlie, "I didn't think I was gonna be able to get it up at this stage. Christ, I've been drunk since three this afternoon. Must be a Christmas miracle."
While writing the scene at the adult bookstore/peep show, Phillips says, "I lavished a lot of time and attention on Anal Pom-Pom Girls, Backdoor Babysitter, Cornhole Teacher's Aide, that whole series of anal films, I spent a lot of time coming up with those [names]." He says he was also inspired by the names of two strip joints in his native Wichita, Kansas, and Kansas City -- the Tender Trap (groan) and Strip-o-Rama, respectively. In his book, the action goes down at the Sweet Cage and at Tease-o-Rama.
Phillips can claim a bit of familiarity with his topic. He says he briefly haunted Wichita's strip clubs with a friend who "always said he was doing research" on the subject. As it turned out, his friend became an academic specializing in the history of burlesque.
If the book seems almost suspiciously ready to be adapted into a film, that may be because Phillips is also a screenwriter. He wrote the script for a 1996 straight-to-video action film called Crosscut and reports that the team of director Robert Benton and writer Richard Russo (Nobody's Fool, Twilight) has optioned the rights to Ice Harvest.
We can only hope that the film has the same merits as the novel -- a great pace, an unconvoluted plot and lots of well-written dirty humor.