While reviews of David Lozell Martin's latest thriller, "Pelikan: A Novel of Love, Redemption & Felony Theft," have run from bland to burning, the origins of the Simon & Schuster title are definitely on the spicy side.
To research the novel -- about a young man who goes looking for his uncle in the New Orleans demimonde -- the 53-year-old author of "The Crying Heart Tattoo" moved to New Orleans for a year to check out the city's seamy side. His apartment, in old slave quarters a block and a half from louche Bourbon Street, "was right in the sleaziest part of the French Quarter," he recalls.
"The kind of book I wanted to do," he says, "was about the street performers and bar workers and the life they lived, and in spite of the jokes that people make -- and I make them myself -- about the tough research, you have to hang around with street performers and hang around bars."
As tough as it must have all been, it may have been even more difficult to justify the research expenses to the Internal Revenue Service. "If I was going to do something I would normally do anyway," Martin explains, "then I wouldn't write it off." He says he can't remember exactly how much he claimed on his tax returns for his racier excursions. "But if I went to a strip joint -- which I did, and of course I wouldn't normally go to a strip joint, I was just doing my research -- that would be a legitimate thing to write off."
Once in the clubs, Martin says, he tried to set some boundaries between literary investigation and personal interest: "If a girl was doing a lap dance and I got an erection, that would be considered personal business. As long as I stayed non-erect, I was doing research," he joked.
The novel's piquancy has stirred the creative juices in some critics. "Martin's talents in the saucy lowlife-comedy genre are abundant," Richard Bernstein wrote in the Nov. 24 New York Times. And the Oct. 1 Kirkus Reviews characterized the book as "a deranged gumbo of a thriller."