Villain, thou know'st no law of God nor man:
No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.
But I know none, and therefore am no beast.
-- William Shakespeare, Richard III: Act 1, Scene 2
An angry and mercilessly suspenseful novel about an ex-con's attempt to negotiate the "straight world" and his swan dive back into the paradoxical security of crime. It is airtight in its construction, almost photorealistic in its portrayal of L.A. lowlife and utterly knowledgeable about the terrors of liberty, the high of the quick score and the rage that makes the finger tighten on the trigger of the gun.
-- No Exit Press, synopsis by the publishers of No Beast So Fierce
A mighty popular Shakespeare quote and, among other things, a 1973 semi-autobiographical crime novel by convict Edward Bunker. Max Dembo is released on parole after eight years in jail and runs into difficulty adjusting to society outside the penal system, finally resuming his career in crime. This is the first, and so far the only, Bunker novel that I've read but I can safely say that even at the time he was an intelligent writer with a shitload of thoughts and ideas regarding ex-convictdom. Drama, however, wasn't his forte. Some passages have an undeniable queasy intensity, but too much of the book simply lies there on the page, oddly producing a feeling of reading an academic work.
Beast was adapted into a 1978 movie Straight Time starring Dustin Hoffman as Dembo and directed by Ulu Grosbard. It co-starred Gary Busey, Kathy Bates and the young Theresa Russell. Although Time failed to garner an audience during its' original run, it is now considered as one of the best films of the 1970s and one of Hoffman's best, if little seen, performances. Bunker co-wrote the screenplay with Jeffrey Boam and Alvin Sargent. Coincidentally the Richard III quote appears in the end of the film Runaway Train, also co-written by Bunker.
James Ellroy called No Beast So Fierce "Quite simply, one of the great crime novels of the past 30 years; perhaps the best novel of the Los Angeles underworld ever written", and Quentin Tarantino came up with the quote "The best first person crime novel I have ever read". Now, the Tarantino connection is interesting, in the first place because he cast Bunker as one of the robbers in his first movie Reservoir Dogs, and secondly because both Dogs and Pulp Fiction mirror some of the elements and scenes that first appeared in Beast. Some of these may sound generic, but the specifics of each make them unmistakably related.
- Abe Meyers's dialogue Max Dembo as he fixes him up with a semi-phony job as a bouncer after Max's release from jail mirrors Dogs: Joe Cabot fixes up Mr. Blonde with a phony job as a dock worker to get his parole officer off his back.
- Detailed passage of Augie Morales shooting up heroin in Max's hotel room: In Pulp Vincent Vega shoots up in great cinematic detail in Lance's house.
- Max's monologue about the danger of robbing liquor stores mirrors the pre-credit sequence in Pulp: Pumpkin and Honey Bunny talk about the same thing in the diner.
- A bungled jewel heist late in the novel: Most of Dogs depicts the aftermath of a bungled jewel heist, with a few flashbacks to the heist itself.