Sunday, February 9, 2014

Stop Thief!

Cold Shot to the Heart
by Wallace Stroby

4 out of 5 bullets notched with Xs

Crissa Stone is the kind of woman who can steal your heart.  She’ll probably also get any other valuables you have because she’s a professional thief.

Her mentor/partner/lover Wayne is locked up in a Texas prison, and Crissa needs cash in a hurry to help grease the wheels for his parole.  A high stakes poker game in Florida seems like a good score so she joins up with a couple of other pros to hit it, but complications arise during the robbery.  Crissa returns to New York where she lives under a false identity, but a brutal killer named Eddie Santiago is on the trail of the stolen money.

Any story about  a professional thief is usually going to draw comparisons to Richard Stark’s Parker series since he’s the modern archetype that inspired countless imitators, but the pro thief characters are almost exclusively male so the idea of having a female lead was a new spin on the idea.  While Crissa is smart, cautious and capable, she’s not a sociopath like Parker, and its her emotions and attachments that make her stand-out from the usual no-nonsense-get-the-job-done kind of guy we’d usually have for the lead in this kind of book. In addition to her loyalty and concern for Wayne, she’s also quietly heartbroken about having had to leave her daughter to be raised by cousin.

On the other end of the scale we’ve got the villain Eddie who is the kind of ruthless bastard that it’s a pleasure to hate.   Newly released from prison, Eddie is anxious to work out old grudges against his old mob buddies as well as take every dollar he can lay his hands on.  Whether he’s browbeating a former partner who has gone straight to rejoin him or trying to recover money he thinks he was owed, Eddie is terrifying in his directness.  He wants what he wants, and he wants it right now.  If that means taking a razor to someone to get what needs, then he’s more than willing to do it.

I heard about this series when George Pelecanos was raving about the newest book on Twitter, and after this first one I can see why.  I was into this book from the opening sentence, and its tight plot and well drawn characters completely sucked me into it.  I can’t wait to read more about Crissa Stone and see what happens next.

Also posted at Goodreads.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

South African Noir

Dust Devils

by Robert Smith

4 out of 5 delicious sheep heads

(I received a free copy of this book from New Pulp Press for this review.)

This book starts out with infidelity, murder, more murder and political/police corruption.

Then things really get dark.

Robert Dell is a white South African journalist who protested apartheid.  He’s a liberal, a committed pacifist and married to a black woman.  His father, Bobby Goodbread, proves that sometimes the apple falls a long way from the tree.   Goodbread is an American who got up to all kinds of evil deeds as part of his job as a CIA agent fighting communism in various hot spots. He worked with the white right-wing whites in South Africa to keep apartheid in place and liked to brag that it was his information that led to the capture of Nelson Mandela. As you would expect, the two have little to talk about.

Dell is framed for a horrible crime by Inja Mazibuko, a brutal enforcer for a high ranking government official.   As he’s about to be transferred to a prison where he’ll almost certainly be killed Dell is rescued by his estranged father.  With no other options, Dell reluctantly joins Goodbread on a mission of revenge.

Mazibuko has returned to a remote region that he runs like a warlord so that he can marry his fourth wife.  Sunday is a young girl who has essentially been sold to Mazibuko, and the prospect is terrifying since she witnessed him murdering her family when she was a child. Her desperate attempt to seek help in the form of a fax to an old phone number lands on the desk of Disaster Zondi, a police officer who just saw his department gutted by corruption.  Zondi is from the area and used to be part of the same crew as Mazibuko before changing his ways. He also knew Sunday’s mother, and he returns to his old stomping grounds for reasons he doesn’t fully understand.

The opening chapters of this made me think that his was going to be a fast-paced violent thrill ride, and while the pace is brisk and there’s no shortage of carnage, there’s a lot more going on in this book than just a story about people trying to kill each other in the wilds of Africa.  The poverty stricken area here is a mix of Zulu tribal rituals and superstitions mixed with bits of the modern world like BMWs, cell phones and AK-47s.

The major characters are all extremely well developed, and Smith makes you completely understand them all from the liberal and educated Dell to the teenaged Sunday who has never used a modern bathroom.  Zondi’s return to the place he grew up stirs mixed emotions about the boy he used to be and the man he became once he left.  Goodbread is fascinating as an aging Cold Warrior who thought he was doing the right thing at the time.  Particularly disturbing is Mazibuko whose is almost a force of nature in his ruthlessness, and he makes for one spectacularly evil villain.

Just when you think you know where the story is going, there’ll be a surprising but logical twist and nothing goes as expected.  It’s not a happy read, but it’s an intriguing one.

Also posted at Goodreads.