Stark House Press has branched out from reissues to put out a brand-new book by Charlie Stella. JOHNNY PORNO is a total throwback to the crime beat of the 1970s, using the idea of the mob’s involvement with the distribution of one of the most notorious porn movies ever made: DEEP THROAT. At the time, it was the center of a major court ruling and embraced as chic by Hollywood.
Stella explains in his introduction the impetus of the novel came to him after watching the documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT, which delves into all the ins and outs of the film’s production and cultural influence. For his plot, he borrows the fact of how the mob took control of the film and its prints. The main character is John Albano, renamed by one of his contacts as Johnny Porno, since it’s his job to drive all around Long Island, picking up money and counting heads at the showings of the flick.
John knows full well this is a soul-sucking job, but he continues on, since his predecessor tried to cheat his bosses out of some money and wound up dead. John has a son he wants to see as much as possible, which is kind of hard since he owes money to his ex-wife, Nancy, and his hours are not what you would call stable.
Plenty of other characters play important roles in the various subplots. The best comparison that can be made is to the works of George V. Higgins. It helps that Stella seems to be a fan of THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, since both the film and book play into part of the story. Stella not only focuses on John’s life as a pick-up man for the mob, but also a group of detectives trying to bust anyone showing DEEP THROAT, and that 1970s staple of a detective on the take. Then there are the men in Nancy’s life. Her first husband comes back with a great scheme for some easy money, while her current man seems way too good for her.
Stella has fun with DEEP THROAT throughout the book, including the idea to sell fake autographed panties or pointing out that star Linda Lovelace was not what you would call a looker. The author also has a sort of off-the-page cameo from the director of the film, and even brings up the other big porno of the time, starring that Ivory Snow girl.
I’d rather not get any further into plot specifics, but the book is so well-crafted and well-paced that it’s going to make more than a few best-of lists when the time comes. Stella never goes for the cheap outs, letting these characters develop over the course of his story. Not only is it a throwback to the 1970s generation, but one that blows away most set in the present day. —Bruce Grossman (Bookgasm)