His historical novels include the Nick Revill series, set in Elizabethan London, a Victorian sequence, and a series of Chaucer mysteries, now in in e-books.
Reading Every Man a Menace is a bit like watching a BT engineer fiddling in one of those telephone junction boxes on the corner of the street. You don’t know what he’s doing or how he does it, you’re just glad someone understands how the spaghetti of wires is all connected.
The underlying idea behind Patrick Hoffman’s book is simple. It tracks the shipment of a high-value consignment of MDMA - aka ecstasy or Molly - from its manufacturing base in Burma to the US, via Thailand. Every Man a Menace is split into five comparatively short sections; each told from a different character’s point of view and generally from a different location as well. We begin with Raymond Gaspar, a small-time thief and user newly released from jail and ‘asked’ by his prison boss/mentor to check out one of the final links in the ecstasy chain as it moves between suppliers in San Francisco. The hapless Raymond loses no time in getting right out of his depth and is shot dead by someone he’d regarded as a friend in little more than 60 pages.
Spool back seventy-nine days from Raymond’s murder and Part 2 takes us to Miami where Semion and Isaak, a brace of Israeli club-owners and drug dealers, are a couple of steps closer to the source of the Molly. Unfortunately for him, Semion becomes infatuated with a woman and then, compromised by her apparent murder, opens himself to blackmail. Part 3 shifts to Bangkok and another link in the chain, another shakedown, more blackmail, fresh leverage. Ditto for Parts 4-5. The narrative twists and circles as we glimpse the motives behind a particular manoeuvre or piece of violence. Almost every character is two-faced, back-stabbing and duplicitous - and those that aren’t are simply incompetent.
Maybe Every Man a Menace lacks anyone to empathise with and maybe it’s occasionally difficult to keep track of the plots and counterplots, but this panoramic documentary style of story-telling isn’t that usual in crime fiction. It’s a gripping read and, given Patrick Hoffman’s background as a private investigator, it feels real.