A Few (more) Quick Questions With…Nick Kolakowski

Nick Kolakowski’s back for another round of questions (feel free to check out the last round while you’re here), to commemorate the kick-off to Main Bad Guy (which I just posted about), the conclusion to his trilogy of Love & Bullets Hookups.

Since we covered a lot of the basics last year, I dove deeper into this trilogy than I usually do. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did and that it spurs you to check these books out.

Was A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps always supposed to kick-off a series, or did that idea come during/after writing it? It’s not your everyday way to start a trilogy about a couple, why this approach?
“A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” was originally going to be a standalone. After it was finished (but before publication), I found myself still jotting down bits of Fiona and Bill—scraps of dialogue, the outline of an action scene, etc. So I realized I wasn’t done with either of them, at least on a subconscious level. But where to take the story next? I didn’t want it to become an open-ended series, so I needed to figure out a way to climax it, to resolve all the dangling plot threads I began weaving in “Brutal Bunch.” And that meant taking Fiona and Bill back to New York City, where everything began.
Why the Elvis suit? It was absolutely a great idea — but I’ve spent weeks coming back to this question, why did you pick that?
The suit is iconic and ludicrous, but it’s also (to me, at least) a symbol of courage. Can you imagine what it took for Elvis to suit up in that thing every night, step in front of hundreds of people, and belt out something like “Suspicious Minds”? In any case, the suit has so much power, it felt like the perfect thing for a character who’s emotionally wounded and more than a little insane to slip into—he draws enough from it to keep going.

I (very) briefly considered making it a John Wayne thing, and having him put on a vest and a cowboy hat, but that didn’t really work—as a costume, it didn’t pack the same ludicrous punch as a sparkly Elvis jumpsuit.

Two things in particular made me realize that Main Bad Guy was going to be the best of the trilogy early on — Fiona’s “origin story” and Walker. I love it when we get a mysterious figure like him and are given juuuuuuust enough information to buy into the character, but are left with a billion questions. Where did Walker come from, and have you considered doing more with him?
“Aging Badass” is a noir/thriller trope that I particularly love—the older guy who’s seen and done too much to get particularly bothered over anything that happens, even if what’s happening is really ludicrous and bloody and crazy (think James Caan in “Way of the Gun,” or Jonathan Banks in “Better Call Saul”). I’ve wanted to do my own variation on that type of character for years, but I needed him to be a bit more flawed and human. Walker is a badass but his skills are rusty; he’s a tactical genius but he has a certain impulsiveness—mirrored by his daughter—that leads him to do things that get him into trouble.

I do want to do more with Walker in the future. Writing him was an enormous amount of fun, especially the scene in “Main Bad Guy” where he walks into his favorite bar and finds it’s been converted into a hipster hellhole, complete with paintings of pugs on the walls. Maybe I’ll do a novella where he comes back and wrecks it.

There’s this great thread running throughout the trilogy, chronicling the rise and evolution of The Rockaway Mob. Some authors would devote a novel or three to this saga, you make it something that can be overlooked. How intentional was that, and what was your reasoning?
It was pretty intentional. I wanted the books to be as fast as possible, and as much as I loved (briefly) tracing out the rise and fall of this very weird gang (and its very weird leaders), I felt it would distract a bit from the core of the story, which is the incredible flight of Fiona and Bill.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I’ve wanted to write a historical novel for years, but haven’t quite had the courage (or the time to plunge into extensive research). Maybe I’ll get to it—I just need to really commit myself to such a massive effort.
Thanks for your time — and thanks for these Hookups.
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Main Bad Guy by Nick Kolakowski: A Blast of an Ending to this Trilogy

Yeah, weird day for me to post something like this, but it’s what Kolakowski asked for — and he wasn’t a jerk about it like the last guy who wanted a Saturday post.

Main Bad GuyMain Bad Guy

by Nick Kolakowski
Series: A Love & Bullets Hookup, #3

Kindle Edition, 152 pg.
Shotgun Honey, 2019
Read: January 28 – 29, 2019

           Bill could tell you all about things going haywire.

Like Fiona’s plan, for instance.

How the hell had he agreed to this insanity?

The answer was obvious: They had no choice.

It had to come down to this, didn’t it? After being on the run for a book to a book and a half (depending on the character), Bill and Fiona have to face off with the Dean, the Rockaway Mob leader who put out the hits on them both. They really don’t much choice, the whole starting over quietly thing didn’t work too well. Or at all.

This picks up right after Slaughterhouse Blues, the pair are having a difficult time getting out of New York, and ultimately find themselves locked in a panic room at the top of a skyscraper, surrounded by Crow Man — “a stellar chemist, and a better botanist” — his crew, and his product. Which is a pretty awkward place to be. Unsurprisingly, Crow Man works for the Dean (don’t you love these names?). The Dean had been having a pretty lousy day up until this point — and when the Dean has a bad day, a lot of people suffer. Then things start looking up, and the Dean is handed two of his most wanted on a silver platter.

Meanwhile, a mysterious figure named Walker is making his way from Canada to New York. He’s seen that the pair found some trouble in Oklahoma and assumed Fiona wold need help. By the time that word got out that they were in New York, he was already on the way, knowing that’d be the case. Walker is one of those classic aged “been there, done that” characters. The old pro who’s tried to retire and ends up having to get back into action one more time — which is good, because they really don’t do well with the quiet life anyway. I’d sign up for a series focusing on him in a heartbeat. I’d almost say this is worth reading just for Walker — even if you know nothing about Bill, Fiona, the Dean, etc. Eh, I’ll go ahead and say it, read this just for Walker. But you’ll like it more if you’ve read the others.

Walker’s travel is beset by trouble from uneasy allies, his age, and just how much the city has changed. One of the best scenes with him starts with Walker revisiting a favorite dive bar that had been “gentrified into a monstrosity” where he felt like he was “attending a wake for someone that nobody in the room had liked” in the middle of the velvet art, sky-blue walls and pop music. Kolakowski grounds this with reflections on September 11 and the effect it had on the City and its citizens — making it more than just a fun moment in the book. The intelligence he picks up in the bar justifies his brush with gentrification and enables him to come to Fiona’s aid. Hopefully in time.

Bill and Fiona are great together, their dialogue crackles. Watching these two try to get out of Dodge is so much fun, you find yourself wishing that Kolakowski had figured out way to stretch this into a quatrology. One of the problems I had, I now realize, with Slaughterhouse Blues was how little Bill and Fiona were together. They spent a lot of A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps apart, too — but that was different. Bill’s a better character with her around, and Fiona works better too — if for no other reason than she has to be a bad-ass and watch out for him, instead of just being pure bad-ass all the time. I’m not sure that makes sense to anyone not living in my head. Hopefully it does.

There’s excitement, there’s gunplay, there are explosives, violence, witty dialogue and a whole lot of bad-ass characters facing off with each other (and Bill’s around, too). This is the literary equivalent of a Martin McDonagh film (when he’s in a more playful mood) — or, if that doesn’t work for you, think Fargo meets Tarantino, but not as long-winded. Kolakowski ties this to A Brutal Bunch so well (and in ways you won’t expect), providing a perfect ending to this saga. There are so many quote-worthy lines in this brief novella that it’s driving me crazy that I can’t work more of them into this.

A lot of novella-series can be read in a clump, like one big novel. This is not one of them. Each novella has its own feel, its own themes and structure — while being one story. Last year, Kolakowski impressed me with his novel, Boise Longpig Hunting Club, this series has shown me that wasn’t a fluke at all and that I need to read anything I can by him.

I can’t tell you what’s holding me back from making this a full 5 Star, but something is. It’s close enough, though (and on Amazon/Goodreads, I round up), so I don’t feel too bad about chopping off that half-star here. But focus on the important things here — it’s a great read, a great conclusion and about as much fun as you’ll have in a thriller this year. Bill and Fiona are a great couple (at least in fiction, they’d probably crash and burn in real life) — and a lot of fun to read about.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge
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Slaughterhouse Blues by Nick Kolakowski: Broken Antiheroes on a Last Chance Power Drive

Slaughterhouse BluesSlaughterhouse Blues

by Nick Kolakowski
Series: A Love & Bullets Hookup, #2

Kindle Edition, 172 pg.
Shotgun Honey, 2018
Read: January 21, 2018

“What’d you put in there?” Don said, nodding at the soiled duffel bag in the backseat.

“About twenty pounds of tobacco, but don’t worry, no leaves, just the little bits. I asked the sweepers to give me the scraps.”

Don laughed. “A couple years back, we tried taking those scraps, making cigarettes out of them. They sold, but not enough. You can’t fight Big Tobacco.”

“You know what’s a good rule for life?” Fiona said. “Don’t fight groups dedicated to killing millions of people.”

It didn’t take long for Bill and Fiona to realize that the business relationship they found themselves in at the end of the last novella to be just as unpleasant as the one they’d just left. They hadn’t jumped into the fire per se, more like they’d jumped from one frying pan into another. And their new associates took a similar approach to their older associates to their exit — they wanted them dead. So now the pair are trying to avoid two large-scale criminal enterprises bent on revenge, while trying to secure enough of a nest-egg to retire and disappear.

That doesn’t sound fun. At least not for them, for readers on the other hand…

Fiona is off doing a small — but hopefully profitable — job for a couple of brothers she’s worked for before. They’re cigar manufacturers in Nicaragua, where the competition might just be getting lethal. Bill, on the other hand, is in another country trying to hide out among the throngs of tourists. Let’s just say that neither of them meet with a lot of success — but Fiona does manage to get a lead on what should be an easy heist. The catch is, it’s in New York. Right in their old backyard.

So we have an easy heist, an uneasy alliance between the couple and a less-than-trustworthy man who can lead them to a big pay, assassins on their tail and some others who discovered that the couple has delivered themselves to their city. Chaos ensues.

It’s action-packed, but with a smaller body count than the previous novel. But at least one of the deaths happens in a way that will stay with you. Not in a haunting way — but in a “wow, what a cool visual” way (something you can appreciate in fiction — in real life, it’d be horrific and witnesses would likely need therapy).

There’s an interesting tie-in here to some things that happened at the end of World War II, reminding the reader just how much moral gray area existed for US troops in those last days of the War in Europe. Well, a lot of gray existed, and some of it might have been made. Either way, it was there.

At the end of the day, I didn’t enjoy Slaughterhouse Blues nearly as much as A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, but I think it says more about the latter than the former. It’s a solid piece of writing, expanding and deepening the universe of these characters a tad. It gives us another opportunity to see them in action while doing some important things for Fiona’s character. If nothing else, Slaughterhouse Blues sets up the third novella (which is better than either of the other two). But most importantly, it tells a good, entertaining story on its own. If I’d read this one not knowing who Bill, Fiona or Nick Kolakowski were — I’d have sought out more about them and by him. That’s good enough for me.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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3 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski: A fast, fun, and bullet-ridden adventure

A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken SapsA Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

by Nick Kolakowski
Series: A Love & Bullets Hookup, #1

Kindle Edition, 128 pg.
Shotgun Honey, 2017

Read: January 17, 2019


Bill is a con man, a hustler, a grifter with a gift — one that has been put to good use by the Rockaway Mob until the day that Bill has had enough. He just can’t keep going the way he’s been going. So he leaves New York and heads off on his secret plan to leave the country. Of course, before he left town, he helped himself to a large amount of the Mob’s money to fund his retirement. Which is as popular a choice as you can expect.

Only . . . his plan isn’t as secret as he thinks and people are on his tail immediately. A pair of employees are sent to take care of Bill and retrieve the cash. And then another is shooter is sent before those first two have even had a chance to fail. And it’s a good thing that happened.

Which is all I should probably say about the plot. Very little goes the way you think it’ll go once things get rolling. What follows is fast, fun and violent. It’s the least subtle critique of civil forfeiture possible — and a whole host of other things.

The backup assassin is our entry into this world, these characters — .he’s notorious, he’s infamous, he’s “that guy.” And . . . he’s kind of falling apart — his wife can’t handle his vocation any more and is divorcing him. His point of view chapters are a mix of attitude, a little snark, mayhem and despondency. Somehow, that mix is a blast.

On the other hand, we have Bill — who you somehow can’t believe was ever brought into the fold by the Rockaway Mob, but he’s clearly good at what he does. But little else, it seems. He has a real knack for moving from fire to fireplace to somewhere hotter yet. One of the other assassins sent after him was the one who brought him to the Rockaway Mob, who vouched for him. Her name is Fiona, and she’s one of the fiercest, deadly, aggressive characters you’ve met recently — and at least until recently, was in love with Bill (not that he treated her too well in his exit, and probably cooled her affections as a result).

This is a novella — and there’s not a lot of space for character development, for fully drawing out a character — and while these three aren’t as well drawn as Kolakowski has in other work, they’re good enough for what he’s wanting to accomplish here. (I hope that doesn’t sound like a slight — it’s not supposed to be). They may not be fully drawn, but they’re a lot of fun — and there’s some intriguing emotional beats between them and some of the other characters in these pages.

This book is primarily an exercise in violence — there’s a hint of torture, just a hint (but most of it happens off-screen). What’s not hinted at are explosions and gunfire. There’s a lot of it — the literary equivalent of so much of the stylized cinematic violence inspired by Tarantino in the 90’s. It’s adrenaline set to music — think Edgar Wright action scenes, but more lethal — to skip a couple of decades (actually, I bet this novella would pair well with much of the Baby Driver soundtrack).

I had a hard time accepting how the last few chapters went, because I had the wrong idea about what Kolakowski was up to with this book (and, I bet, the next two books that follow). But I had a blast with it — even the last chapters, once I gave up my preconceptions.

This is a fast, lean novella — there’s not an ounce of fat, not one unnecessary sentence to this. Kolakowski has a story to tell and he tells it. I knew going in that this was going to be a fast read, but I couldn’t believe how quickly I got through it — between the lean prose, the fast pace of the book and the action scenes, this was just a bullet train of a read (no pun intended).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author. My opinions expressed above are my own. I appreciate the book, but I didn’t sell out my opinions because of that..

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3.5 Stars

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