Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Calculating the Odds

Michigan Roll
by Tom Kakonis
Brash Books

(I received a free copy of this via NetGalley in exchange for this review.)

A crime novel set in Michigan? A slightly shady hero? A woman roped into doing something against her better judgement? A lowlife with delusions of grandeur thinking he can steal a fortune in drugs and get away with it? A couple of thug characters, one of which likes to engaging in long rambling conversations that function as veiled threats as a way to intimidate people?

Seriously, how is this NOT an Elmore Leonard novel? It isn’t, but that’s the obvious comparison to this reprint published by the new Brash Books of Tom Kakonis’s 1988 novel. 

Tim Waverly is an ex-con turned professional gambler who gets bored cleaning out suckers in Florida and takes a trip to revisit his old stomping grounds of Traverse City, Michigan. There he meets Holly Clemmons, a/k/a Midnight, who has come to town to help her dumb-ass half-brother who thought it’d be a brilliant idea to rip off a bunch of dope from the man he was working for. Now he has the chatty sex-crazed Shadow and his partner, the quiet Native American Gleep, after him. Although Waverly is a guy who knows all the odds and sees getting involved as a bad move, he’s so intrigued by Holly that he gets drawn into the shenanigans. 

This is a solid crime novel with a colorful cast of characters that does a lot of shifting viewpoints to let you know how they all see one another and themselves along with some clever dialogue. Again, it sounds like Elmore Leonard, but Kakonis does enough to differentiate his own style. Waverly is a bit more introspective and philosophical than you’d usually see in an EL hero, and the bad guys have a bit more of nastiness to them. 

The biggest problem I had with this is that it doesn’t really do much with the idea that Waverly is a professional gambler, which I thought was one of the more interesting aspects. Rather than come up with some kind of plot based around that, it’s just part of his background for the stolen drugs story which seems kind of run-of-the-mill these days. So while I liked the characters and the set-up, the story just didn’t do enough to lift it above average.

Also posted at Goodreads.

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