Beth Jacobs,
Lizards in Sturgis
(Pontalba, 1997)

Cody Wade is an outlaw biker. His junkie mother, Sindy, is nearly non-existent until she wants to go clean; his father, Jesse, is a mean-spirited sonofabitch with a biker bar in California. Both are members of a club called "the Lizards" who have just come up with one kick-ass bike design that'll rival the Harley-Davidsons on the road.

That is, until Cody gets to Sturgis to unveil the bike design to a group of a half million bikers there for the rally, and to follow his father's instructions of getting rid of his grandmother on the family farm. Problem is ... Cody finds his colors painted on Roosevelt's cheek on Mount Rushmore. And if that's not bad enough, the lizard is painted with "H.A." as a signature.

All of a sudden, Cody finds himself without the adoration he thought he'd have from his bike design and ends up instead with everyone from the FBI to the Hell's Angels to the Yakuza on his back. For good reason.

Lizards in Sturgis opens up slowly and with little focus. The characters seem stereotypical and contrived (badass rotten-to-the-core biker, drug addict biker chick, bad boy with the heart of gold), and the storyline itself is only lukewarm. Go get rid of the grandmother, live outside of the law, yadda yadda yadda.

About twenty pages in, though, the mystery side of thing starts to unfold. The characterization of the grandmother is fantastic, though also slow at first. Cody meets a mysterious woman on a hilltop. Pieces begin to be laid on the table that don't seem to have any relationship to each other.

It works. By the time half the book was over, I cancelled my other appointments for the day and curled up in a blanket to finish the rest of it.

There's plenty of action, a very researched portrayal of the bike rallies in Sturgis, and a lot of old-fashioned South Dakotan sensibility in this book. The story layers around on top of itself, and, provided you have a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, a totally unpredictable and feasible-in-context ending.

The only problem that I have a major gripe about is that during a pivotal scene, the main character/semi-narrator is unconscious. I can't help but think the author slacked a little here -- it was easier to explain in retrospect, I think.

Overall, though, this is a hugely satisfying book, though not necessarily one of substance. It's like eating fast food -- it's good, but it's not something that's going to nourish you for any length of time. Strangely, I definitely would recommend it, especially for one of those rainy spring days or to save as a beach read for this summer. Taken in that context, this book is right on target.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]

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