Steal your heart

Nina, The Bandit Queen is Joey Slinger’s best book yet. As a previous winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, Slinger has another winner here.

But first, let me declare a conflict. I am a friend of Slinger and was the titleist on two of his previous books: No Axe Too Small to Grind and If It’s a Jungle Out There, Why Do I Have to Mow the Lawn? But I had nothing to do with Nina. Maybe that’s why it’s so good.

Nina Carson Dolgoy, the lead character, is the kind of person who would steal your heart and steal your wallet. And maybe not in that order. Her motto is: “Being a welfare queen doesn’t have to be a dead end.” She lives in SuEz, a part of the city so scary that even the cops don’t go there. The rest of the hilarious collection of misfits includes: D.S., who lives with Nina and wears a blond wig and nightie so the welfare inspectors don’t know there’s a man on the premises and cut off her cheques. Ed Oataway who makes a living being paid to steal cars so the owners can collect on the insurance. L. Roy and L. Ray Ewell who are identical twins although they didn’t look alike until they were five and, in fact, are not even related. And Jarmeel Tolbert who founded a church in an abandoned grocery store for people who have been taken up into space and probed by aliens. The whole book has a circus tent unreality. The total IQ of all the characters is something less than the wheelbase of the clown car.

Nina wants to raise money to fix the local swimming pool so her daughters have something to do rather than become prostitutes. Her friend, JannaRose, suggests a bake sale but they don’t know anyone who bakes. So they decide to rob a bank. They argue it’s not really stealing because nothing is missing. After all, the bank has insurance, and the insurance company is backed by the government, and the government just prints more money.

Nina’s brother Frank, just released from prison, does the deed. The getaway car is disabled by an accident so Frank escapes by subway with $1.18 million. Or does he? I won’t play plot spoiler.

The book is filled with wonderful lines that make you laugh out loud. Even though there is no back door and anyone could walk in, welfare inspectors dig a tunnel into Nina’s house to see if a man is living there. She catches them and beats one of them; he later dies. “The marks on his head showed he’d been beaten with an artificial arm,” writes Slinger. “When the artificial fingerprints were examined, they showed it had been his own artificial arm, the one he’d lost in the scuffle with Nina.”

Police investigate, convinced that this is all part of Nina’s master plan, to move up from shooting junkyard dogs to knocking off municipal civil servants.┬áRead this book and weep. With tears of laughter.

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