The Bunker man cometh
Behind Quentin Tarantino’s creation Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs is a writer with a murky past and a bright future. Edward Bunker tells Deirdre Molloy about his fourth novel.
Edward Bunker refers to himself as a thief in the present tense. This isn‘t irony. just his natural turn of phrase. Now aged 59. and with his fourth novel about to be published. Bunker has been on the right side of the law for over twenty years. but he‘s never been reformed per se.
Reissues of Bunkcr's previous novels and his work as a scriptwriter (he co-authored the I985 Oscar nominated Runaway Train) have sealed his ranking as a cult author. But it was his work as a bit-pan actor that finally broadened his recognition when he played Mr Blue in Quentin 'I'arantino‘s Reserroir Dogs. Diamond casting. since the last felony Bunker committed was to rob a bank in Beverly Hills. the des res of Hollywood‘s elite.
Placed in juvenile reform school at the age of eleven after failing to adjust to the series of boarding schools and foster homes his parents abandoned him to. Bunker graduated to prison at the age ofsixteen. His life rapidly becatue a cat and mouse game of illegal grafting and spells behind bars. where his anti- authoritarian streak often landed him in solitary. sparking the reading habit that fuelled the writing bug.
On the outside. his career encompassed robbery. extonion. drug-dealing and forgery. With ample prison schooling he was soon considered a monsignor of the Californian underworld. ‘I wouldn't be nothing or have nothing.‘ says Bunker. reﬂecting on his criminal exploits. ‘Once you‘ve been locked up in this society. you‘re also locked out. They over-educated rne for the role they allowed me to play. I‘d read so many heroic tales and I knew too much tojust let myself work in a carwash. Most people get rich stealing money one way or another.‘
This line of defence could be used by Troy Cameron. the protagonist of Dog Eat Dog. Troy hooks up with fellow ex-cons Diesel Carson and Mad Dog McCain when they are paroled from San Quentin to pull off one ﬁnal score that will see them clear of criminal dependency. Back on the streets of Los Angeles after twelve years. Troy finds a city transformed: beggars crowd the alleyways of the gleaming office districts. and random drive-by shootings have replaced the old gang wars in the suburbs. Tellingly. California's notorious ‘Three Strikes' law - whereby all crimes. if preceded by two convictions. become capital offences — drives the trio to crime of even greater magnitude.
The story bn’stles with the tensions and accelerated heartbeats of its three outlaws. Diesel dices with mob
betrayal. Mad Dog with cocaine-induced frenzies.
and Troy exudes detachment in the face of hypocrisy.
Together their commitment to the prize overrulcs connection to banal everyday certainties. Bunker had first-hand experience of this lifestyle. ‘With these kind of people. the metabolism seems to exist at a higher. more intense level.‘ he reﬂects. ‘They crave some kind of action. that‘s why they burn out. That's why crime is a young man‘s game. it‘s like a war it‘s so intense.‘
I wish Tarantino had my originality of material and me his knowledge of movies. We could really kick ass.
In I973 Bunker's first published novel No Beast So F ieree garnered controversy and critical acclaim. He completed his next book The Animal Factory while serving a ﬁve-year sentence for that bank robbery. committed while on bail for burglarising a bar safe. Penning angry articles on prison conditions for The Nation and an essay on the penal system‘s impending race war that ran as a cover story in Harper's magazine. his growing stature earned him an early parole in I975.
Nowadays his movie credits outnumber his bulging
Edward Bunker: ‘l’m a realist'
criminal record. to the point where he's due a pension from the American Screen Actors Guild. A film- adaptation of James Ellroy's novel Suir'ide Hill. scripted by Bunker. is also forthcoming. But what of his role as Mr Blue?
Chornping on a JR cigar and debating Madonna. he spoke up for the waitress in the opening scene. Now his novels boast the Quentin Tarantino'M endorsement. 'When I first met him I thought he was a dufus. lcouldn‘t believe him.‘ laughs Bunker. ‘But I've learned things from Quentin about writing screenplays. I wish he had my originality of material and me his knowledge of movies. We would really kick ass.‘
So the prison writer who once sold his blood to pay for postage hasn't softened with age? ‘l'm a pit bull. a hard-head.‘ he says. ‘Hemingway said that a writer who is worth anything has to love the truth like a prelate of the church loves God. and I know that it's archaic. it’s not post-modern and all that shit. but I‘m deeply into that. l‘m a realist and that's all.‘
Dog Eat Dog by Edward Bunker is published by No Exit Press at £72.99. The List sﬁltn editor Alan Morrison will be in conversation with Bunker at the Cameo. Edinburgh on Tuesday 23 July. between screenings of Straight Time and Reservoir Dogs.
r nc'kels cost £5 ( £4).
78 The List 12-25 Jul I996