Bobby Gold hates his day job. As an enforcer for a low-level Manhattan mobster, he gets paid to break people's arms, a task he performs with precision if not enthusiasm. Such is the bleak absurdity of this novel that after Bobby artfully shatters his uncle's arm, Bobby offers, "Let me get you a cab" to the hospital.
This is Bourdain's third novel but the first since his breakthrough work of nonfiction, 2000's Kitchen Confidential. That book was an unvarnished look at Bourdain's life as a chef. This time Bourdain trains his eye for seamy detail on a New York City nightclub, where Bobby moonlights as a security manager. He meets Nikki, a beautiful but lonely chef; when she whips him up some white truffle risotto, it's love at first bite.
Nikki sleeps around, drinks until she vomits and, apropos of nothing, announces, "I want to steal a lot of money and then retire to the beach." What follows is the climax of a slim volume, although it's not clear why we should care about this dysfunctional couple. Bourdain is a great observer, and his profane dialogue should come with a warning: This plate is hot. But the story is like a soufflé that fails to rise. (Bloomsbury, $19.95)