Moses McGuire is not sure what he hates most -- himself or the rotten world he finds himself living in. Having been drummed out of the marines and served time, he’s approaching forty, his wife has left him, and he’s working as a bouncer at a run-down strip club in LA. He’s surrounded by losers and hardened and criminal souls, and his closest friends are Kelly, a waitress at the club who declines to strip, and bottles of whiskey. Contemplating whether to end it all with a bullet through the back of his mouth, he receives a phone call from Kelly asking him to come and rescue her from two thugs from her past. By the time he catches up with her she’s been tortured and murdered and McGuire gains a new purpose in life: revenge and justice. And he doesn’t really care who he pisses off in the process of exacting them -- the cops, FBI, the mob, or those working in the strip and prostitution industry -- or if he’ll end up dead. All that matters is making those responsible pay, and he has the attitude, wheels and firearms to make sure that happens.
Beautiful, Naked and Dead is a hardboiled caper novel that starts at a fair clip and keeps motoring along until its bloody climax. Everything about the book is hard-edged with soft undertones: the characters, the plot, the prose. Moses McGuire at one level is a cookie-cut hard man, but Stallings makes him a little vulnerable and complex with a firm moral compass despite his own shady past. The other characters are a little one-dimensional and cliched, but they perfectly fit the plotline and the fast-paced action. The strength of the plotting is the relentless pace, nicely realised action scenes and interchanges between characters, strong contextualisation within the stripping industry, and sense of place. Adding to the whole effect is Stalling’s tough writing voice that is nicely expressive and engaging. Overall, an entertaining read that has possible movie-script written all over it.