A Few Quick Questions With…Jo Perry

One of the first things I did when I decided to participate in Fahrenbruary was to see if Jo Perry would participate in one of these Q&As (and thankfully she displayed poor judgment and agreed). I decided to post this today to commemorate the publication of the fourth book in her fantastic series, Dead Is Beautiful. It’ll be the next book I start and I’m hoping to have my post up about the book itself on Monday. I know the positive reviews are already popping up out there on teh IntraWebz. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this.

What was your path to publication? What did you do to prepare yourself to this career in fiction?
I don’t believe anything prepares a person for writing fiction except writing and reading. My father’s formal education ended at fourth grade. He educated himself by reading and became a comedy writer. My mother had been a teacher. Both read relentlessly. Words, especially jokes were serious business: One wrong word and the joke’s punch evaporates.

I always wrote—mostly poetry, studied literature in college, got a Ph.D. in English, taught literature and writing, wrote episodic television and some other stuff. But despite all that I am very late bloomer when it comes to fiction. My first novel, Dead Is Better was published in 2015.

As for a “career in fiction,” I’m not there yet, but I’m very lucky that my husband, novelist Thomas Perry demonstrated how that’s done. This year he published his 26th novel, The Burglar.

Whatever one might think about Charlie (your protagonist we know best), there’s no denying that Rose is what most of your readers connect to. You recently posted something brief to Facebook about Rose’s origin — can you talk a little more about that?
During the scorching summer of 2008, I came upon a dusty, thirsty, exhausted, frightened dog that someone dumped in crowded home improvement store parking lot. I drove her home (she fell asleep immediately on the front seat of the car) and––after some listless attempts to find a home for her because we were strictly cat people––we were hers and we named her Lucy.

From the first moment she met me, Lucy upended my life, revealed new worlds and introduced me to people who have become deep, cherished, important friends. Lucy’s constancy, her sweetness despite being neglected and abused, her patience with me, a total dog-novice idiot, her sense of humor, her wisdom and her benevolence changed me completely. I experienced the bottomless, endless goodness dogs give us, and witnessed the casual and not so casual cruelties which human beings visit upon dogs hourly and daily.

The experience of knowing/experiencing Lucy, and Lola, the second dog who appeared to us, is the basis for Dead Is Better and the other books in the series—so yes, in general ways, Lucy is the model for Rose.

Outside some pretty extreme — and rare — circumstances, Charlie and Rose do little more than watch events unfold in front of them. What was the reasoning behind that choice? What are the special challenges behind that kind of protagonist for the writer?
I wanted my protagonists dead, which means that they would be ghosts. But I wanted none of the traditional ghostly machinery, telekinetic movement, special effects or general creakiness. So I set up some rules: In the afterlife the dead can touch each other, see each other and of course hear each other.

But in living world only the dead can see the dead.  They cannot be heard or felt or seen. The dead cannot affect anything directly.

The challenges are huge but fun and in some ways a relief from guns, computers, traditional violence, cell phones of crime fiction.  And ghosts are perfect voyeurs. They can spy all they want. They can float through walls. Through people. They can go anywhere at any time. And they are fearless because they cannot be killed.

Most of the time these limitations are liberating and inspiring. Other times they are a pain.

Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I love nonfiction. I don’t think I could write it well. Nonfiction demands meticulous, massive research and an ability to organize all of it into a compelling, graceful narrative.

I have become mystery/suspense/thriller reader now and love it.

What’s the one (or two) book/movie/show in the last 5 years that made you say, “I wish I’d written that.”?
TV: I wish I’d written Fauda, and The Method.

Books (short list) I wish I’d written Nikki Dolson’s All Things Violent, Grant Nicol’s A Place To Bury Strangers, Denial by Paddy McGrane, James Craig’s A Slow Death and A Shot At Salvation, Timothy Hallinan’s Pulped, For The Dead and Crashed, Saira Viola’s Jukebox, Fidelis Morgan’s The Murder Quadrille, Seth Lynch’s Salazar novels, Thomas Perry’s novels, esp. the Butcher’s Boy novels, the Jane Whitefield novels, and Strip; Derek Farrel’s Danny Bird mysteries, David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device.

This one’s not about you directly, but what is it about Fahrenheit Press that seems to generate the devotion and team spirit that it does (or at least appears to)? I don’t know that I’ve seen as many authors from the same publisher talk about/read each other’s books — or talk about the publisher — as much as you guys seem to. Is it simply contractual obligation, or is there more?
In no way do F13Noir/Fahrenheit Press require their authors to, as they might say, flog their publishing house. The truth is that their writers and readers rave about them because they love them. They’re funny, they’re honest, they’re daring, and they take risks.

Too often publishers avoid risk entirely and busy themselves with policing genre boundaries to make the selling of books easier, i.e. so they can say, “This luminous thriller is Girl On A Train meets [insert name of best seller here].  Any book that violates genre norms or bends genres or or that is too weird is a no-no. An example: A publisher liked Dead Is Better except for one small thing—the dog. I was told that I couldn’t have a “dog detective.” That a dog protagonist in a mystery was not permitted. Was a rule breaker. That if I removed the dog, they’d look at the book again. Which means either that they didn’t like the dog, which is fine, or that they didn’t know how to sell the dog because a dead dog protagonist was too different, too weird, maybe too upsetting for some.

Fahrenheit Press/F13Noir don’t play that game or any games––which is extraordinary. They look for crime fiction that (and I cannot speak for them, but I infer this from their list) makes the reader feel something, that’s exciting, daring, fresh, brave. They look for powerful voices. They don’t try to tame crime fiction, they like it wild, unapologetic, unadulterated. In fact, they kind of dare writers to produce the most courageous books they are capable of writing.

That is miracle and I am endlessly grateful to them because of it.

Thanks for your time — and thanks for Charlie and Rose. I hope you enjoy continued success with them (and not just because that would guarantee me more of them to read).

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Black Moss by David Nolan: A Mystery that will Haunt You in a Stunning Debut Novel

Black MossBlack Moss

by David Nolan


Kindle Edition, 291 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018

Read: Febryary 11 – 12, 2019

           Danny had never been out here before. He’d heard the moors were bleak, but he wasn’t prepared for the sheer unrelenting nothingness of the area. It was like the world had been horizontally cut in two –sky at the top, moor at the bottom, with nothing to provide any form of relief from the two themes. Not even a tree. Not one. In any direction. Bleak.

David Nolan’s debut novel is one of those that I’m having a hard time gauging how much to say about the plot. If I don’t keep a foot on the brake pedal, I know I could easily go on and on and quickly give away everything — and where’d the fun be in that for you?

Not that “fun” is a good word for about 96% of the experience of this book. This isn’t one of those books (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Half of this book is told in April of 1990. Rookie radio reporter Danny Johnston is assigned to cover a murder miles away from the story that he wants to cover (and that just about every other reporter in the Manchester area is covering), the real-life riot at Strangeways prison. As Danny is watching the police fight the wind, he sees the body they’re trying to cover with a tarp. It’s a young boy, clearly the victim of murder. A few days later, he’ll learn just how brutal the killing is — but it doesn’t matter. From the moment he saw the body, Danny was committed to making sure the killer is caught.

The other half takes place in 2016, when noted television report Daniel Johnston wraps his car around a tree. He’s drunk — he usually is, it turns out — and this is the last time. The iPhone video of his exit from the car and the drunken ranting and falling that ensues doesn’t do his image any favors. He’s facing criminal charges, the collapse of his career and therapy. Between some great medication, someone to listen and a lot of free time, he makes some progress on putting himself back together and decides to go back to Manchester to try to complete the quest he started so long ago. He also explores some of his own demons along the way — we don’t spend that much time with that, but enough to get a better idea what’s behind a lot of his own behavior.

In addition to Danny/Daniel, there’s a small-town newspaper reporter, three police detectives, several Radio Manchester employees, an MP and some residents of a children’s home and the woman who runs the place that serve as the major characters in 1990. In 2016, we still see most of these characters — just at new stages in their lives. Some of them have moved past this crime, others remember it as much as (if not more than) Danny. None of these characters are the kind of splashy or obviously entertaining individuals that many mystery novels are peppered with — they’re simply well-rounded people. Flawed, with obvious issues and strengths.

From the first chapter (see the quotation above) to the end — there is a bleak feeling pervading this work. Between the geography, the situation, and the weather that’s the best word for it. I don’t describe the feel of books often enough — but this is one of those books that the adjective “atmospheric” was invented for. There’s an atmosphere, a mood, an undercurrent running through this book. Hopelessness surrounds the so many of these characters. Wretched also works to describe the feeling.

Which isn’t to say that this is a book you trudge through — you don’t. You really don’t notice the time you spend in this book, it swallows your attention whole and you keep reading, practically impervious to distractions. Yes, you feel the harsh and desolate atmosphere, but not in a way that puts you off the book. You want to get to the bottom of things with Danny and his friends/allies.

The mystery part of this book is just what you want — it’s complex, it’ll keep you guessing and there are enough red herrings to trip up most readers. As far as the final reveal goes, it’s fantastic. I had an inkling about part of it — but I didn’t see the whole thing until just a couple of pages before Nolan gave it to us. Yet when the reveal is finished you’re only left with the feeling of, “well, of course — what else could it have been?”

And then you read the motivation behind the killing — and I don’t remember reading anything that left me as frozen as this did in years. There’s evil and then there’s this.

This is a stark, desolate book (in mood, not quality) that easily could’ve been borrowed (or stolen) straight from the news. Nolan’s first novel delivers everything it promises and more. You won’t be sorry if you give this one a shot, you’re not going to read a lot of books better — or as good — anytime soon.

—–

5 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: Dead is Good by Jo Perry

One more Charlie and Rose book for you this week — and it’s a doozy. I hope you’re enjoying this stroll through these books as much as I am — I’m enjoying them so much, that for the last two days I’ve forgotten to mention something incredibly important — the fourth book in this series, Dead Is Beautiful comes out tomorrow — Fahrenbruary 14th! Go — click and buy. Then come back tomorrow for a special treat.

Dead is GoodDead is Good

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #3

Kindle Edition, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: August 3, 2017

Oh, and after all this time I learned something else about being dead.

Death is failure.

Death is loss.

Everything—who you are, what you know—goes.

Whoever you thought you were, you weren’t and you’re not.

When he was alive, Charlie Stone was married multiple times to pretty horrible women (if we’re to believe him — and we might as well, he seems pretty upfront and honest about this kind of thing), not that he was any catch, either. But he really only loved one person, Grace Morgan. Grace broke things off with Charlie and moved on with her life, but apparently after hearing about his murder, she was moved to change her approach to art — deciding to challenge the audience, forcing them to realize how close to death they are.

Yeah, it sounds pretty silly and pretentious to me, but hey…that’s not the important part of the story. Maybe if we got more examples of her art, I’d care more and maybe even understand. What is important about Grace, for our purposes, is that her life is in danger, it’s because of this danger that Charlie and Rose have been brought from their afterlife-limbo back to Earth.

The book opens with one of the more blatant suicide-by-cop scenes you’ve ever read, which is intended to serve as protection for Grace. It doesn’t work out, or the book would be really short. Powerless to do anything but watch and hope things turn out okay, Charlie and Rose travel around L.A. discovering for themselves what it was that endangered Grace in the first place — which brings them into a world of drugs, sweatshop workers, deceptive piñatas, and smuggled birds.

This is a very tangled story, it takes Charlie quite a while to put the pieces together — Rose has her own priorities in this mess and spends some time away from Charlie, unwilling to turn her focus on his behalf. The way that this criminal enterprise is eventually revealed to work not only seems like something that really exists, but is revealed in a way that is narratively satisfying.

Charlie will tell his readers over and over that there’s no character growth in death — that’s nonsense. Post-mortem Charlie is a much more emotionally mature and self-sacrificing kind of guy than pre-mortem Charlie was. In this book we see him come to — or at least acknowledge — a greater and deeper understanding of what love is, and what he allowed his previous relationship to become. It may not do him any good in the afterlife, but Charlie is better for it, and in someway we can hope that Grace is better off having gone through all this, so that whatever life has in store for her can be tackled face-on.

I love these characters — even while we readers don’t fully understand their circumstances, how they know where to go, what brings them to this world at certain times. Even while they don’t have much better of an idea than we do (at least Charlie doesn’t). I love how while they can’t interact with their environment, the people they see and events they watch unfold, they are driven to find answers, driven to care about what’s happening. There’s something about that compulsion — and success they have in figuring things out — that matters more than when Bosch or Spenser or Chin and Smith put all the pieces together to thwart someone.

This wasn’t as amusing as previous installments, but it was just as satisfying — maybe more so. For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.

The L.A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner has a gift shop?? Why isn’t anyone investigating this? It may be real, it may be popular and legal. But surely that’s a crime against tact, right?

—–

4 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: Dead is Best by Jo Perry

I like this post better than I liked my post on the first of the Charlie and Rose books (that we saw yesterday), but I still think I could’ve done better. Nevertheless, I agree with almost everything I said back in 2016 — especially the main point: get this book.

Dead is BestDead is Best

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #2

Kindle Edition, 296 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016

Read: May 2, 2016

You’d think that having given up the ghost I’d be beyond the grasp of my ex-stepdaughter, the parasite.

Sure, Charlie’s less-than-charitable assessment, doesn’t make it sound like death has mellowed him at all — or that we really want to spend a novel looking into the trials and tribulations of his ex-stepdaughter, Cali. (a quick aside: I loved Charlie’s rant about the pretentious names given to Cali and her peers, “Truth, Canyon, Druid, Turquoise, Vanilla and Road. Don’t tell me those are names–– they’re brands. “) But last time we learned that 1. Charlie has actually mellowed a bit, we just need more time to see it; 2. He’s generally right about his family; and it won’t take long before the reader will actually care about Cali. As difficult as she’ll make it.

Textbooks will tell you that Cali is a “troubled teen.” Which is a pretty vague, and a likely outdated, term. She’s a drinker, a drug user, defiant daughter (although once you meet her mother and current stepfather, you kind of get that) in trouble with the law. But it doesn’t take long once Charlie and Rose start to follow her for her to end up in more trouble than she — or anyone — deserves.

Once again, there’s very little that Charlie and Rose can do other than watch what’s happening and put two and two together in the almost vain hope that Charlie can do something about it. Rest assured, they do, and it doesn’t involve another near death experience (I was a little afraid they’d just be hanging around Surgical Centers waiting for the next opportunity to talk to another ghost). It’s hard to believe that a mystery series where no one knows that the main characters did anything works. But this does.

What can I say about Rose? She’s at once one of the most realistic dog characters I can remember reading lately (she doesn’t talk, narrate, have a point of view chapter, or communicate telepathically), and yet, as a ghost, is the hardest to believe. She’s such a good influence on Charlie, I’m glad whatever or Whoever brought them together after their deaths.

Charlie said something in the last book about death not being about learning anything or insight or growth, that he stays the same. I don’t believe it, he’s not the same guy. But it’s probably a good sign that he doesn’t realize it.

Something I should’ve mentioned when I talked about the previous novel, these chapter epigraphs are great. They represent a truly impressive collection of quotations about death, some funny, some thoughtful, just about all of them keepers. The book is worth the effort just to read these (but you should really focus on the rest of the book).

Perry’s freakishly short chapters make you think Robert Parker was prone to be long-winded and rambling, but they work. You could probably make the case that they’re a commentary on the transient nature of human life or something (if you wanted to, and I don’t). They keep things moving, really keep anything from dragging, and help you get how Charlie and Rose can jump from place to place with ease.

Funny, poignant, all-around good story-telling. Plus there’s a dog. You really can’t ask for more than that. It’s easy to see why people as diverse as Cat Warren and Eric Idle commend these books. I strongly recommend this one (and the predecessor).

—–

4 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: Dead is Better by Jo Perry

We continue our trip down memory lane in Fahrenbruary with the first of Jo Perry’s books about Charlie and Rose. Looking back, I’m not sure I like my take on the book. I don’t dislike it, but I could’ve done better. Still, it’s a good book and these are the thoughts I had about it.

Dead is BetterDead is Better

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #1

Kindle, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: March 12 – 14, 2016

In its young life, Fahrenheit Press has put out some great looking titles, not your typical mystery fare. I’ve only read 2 (bought 1 other), so far — but they’ve shared the off-kilter flavor that the Press’ twitter feed/publicity displays (and descriptions for the other books indicate). I don’t typically talk about publishers when I’m talking about books, but there’s something about Fahrenheit’s project — and the books they put out — that draws your attention. Dead is Better is typical of FP — a mix of darkness and light, unlikely protagonists, unlikely crime-solvers, and atypical crimes (at least as far as crime fiction goes).

Charles Stone is our protagonist, but he’s not really the character that will grab your imagination. That’d be Rose — but we’ll get to her in a moment. Charles is dead — very dead, shot several times. His ghost carries the wounds, as well as the clothing, even the hospital ID bracelet, from the time he died. He can’t remember the shooting however, and can’t think of a reason why he’d be shot. He’s (to his reckoning) no one important, and it doesn’t seem anyone around him even cares enough to kill him/arrange for his killing. After a little bit, he starts to come up with a possible motive or two. But his murder doesn’t seem to be the thing he’s most curious about. What he’d really like to know is, why does he have a constant companion?

Rose is a dog. Well, technically, she was a dog, now she’s the ghost of one. We don’t know why she’s alongside Charles, but she’s been with him the entire time he’s been a ghost. It seems that she had a really unpleasant life; and at last, in Charles, has someone caring for her. Rose is not going to challenge Crais’ Maggie, Quinn’s Chet, or Hearne’s Oberon anytime soon as the greatest dog in fiction — which is not a dig. Rose is great, she’s just not legendary. Rose does have one thing going for her that the other’s don’t — she’s pretty realistic (not that the others don’t have their moments — but even Maggie gets Point-of-View chapters), she can only communicate through suggestion — and even then, the people around her have to guess. Sometimes, they guess wrong.

The two begin investigating Charles’ murder — with the occasional glance at his family and former life. But before long, Charles becomes convinced he’s not around to look into his death, but something else. Rose, somehow, seems to know more about what’s going on than Charles, but he’s the one who needs to do the work. The pair do uncover some answers — and others uncover some others (I’m not convinced that all the answers the readers/Charles are given about anything beyond the main crime are correct, but . . . ).

More importantly, Charles finds a measure of redemption — sure, it might be too late, but nevertheless, there is some. You get the idea that if he maybe had a dog while living, he might’ve turned out to be a better person. Sure, that describes most of humanity to me, so I responded to that, but I think Perry sells it well enough that just about anyone would.

I’ve often thought of trying to do an Urban Fantasy for NaNoWriMo featuring a ghost, but I’ve never figured how to bridge the communication gap between the living and the dead without it feeling like a cheat. I liked Perry’s solution to this (I worry about the sequel repeating it — but that’s not my problem, is it?). I’m not convinced that the police could’ve/would’ve used the information that Charles got to them, but in the moment — you don’t care, you’re just glad that someone did something.

This is a fast and lean read — Perry doesn’t waste a word (actually leaves a couple of them out, but nothing too distracting). You’ll grow to like Charles, you’ll want to adopt Rose, and you’ll want to finds out what happens to them next. Thankfully, their story will continue in Dead is Best.

—–

4 Stars

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.

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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