Friday, June 13, 2014

The Buffalo Job by Mike Knowles

The Buffalo Job: A Wilson MysteryThe Buffalo Job: A Wilson Mystery by Mike Knowles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Buffalo Job, the fifth effort by Mike Knowles in his Wilson series, Knowles shows he’s not growing soft, or even slightly sympathetic to Wilson, the former mob enforcer who just can’t quite get his life back together. Exhaustion, pain, mayhem and death travel with Wilson. Corpses and battered people litter the way behind him.

Wilson has a weak moment and finishes a job stealing a work of art for some young gangsters after they failed at the same job that he’d planned for them. One was a nephew to an Albanian mob boss, Pyrros Vogli. Vogli decides Wilson is hungry for work and “insists” that he manage a job for him stealing one of the rarest articles in the world, a Stradivarius violin that could soon be out of his reach.

Wilson has to assemble a crew in just a few days, babysit the mobster’s nephew as one of the crew, cross the Canadian/US border to Buffalo, and steal the violin either from a vault or a busy concert hall. While he concerns himself with the loyalty of his thrown-together crew, he also has to worry that the Albanian mob in Buffalo may find out he’s on their turf, or worse maybe trying to steal the violin too. What could go wrong?

Knowles propels his story forward with multi-dimensional characters, terse dialog, spare descriptions and unflinching violence.  Scenes crackle with authenticity, as tense moments explode into ferocious action. Wilson is a protagonist who will make you cringe, even as you root for him to succeed.

Knowles has put a Canadian pin on the hardboiled crime fiction map. His dialog is reminiscent of Andrew Vachss, his brutal intensity of Ken Bruen, and his violence-infused plotting of Charlie Huston. Those are three pretty good reasons to read him if you like your crime fiction dark.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014


THE LAST DEAD GIRL by Harry Dolan, G.P. Putnam & Sons, ISBN 978-0-399-15796-7, HB $26.95, Rating A

     Few reading experiences are as satisfying as finding an excellent book by a new author, or new to the reader, anyway. The Last Dead Girl is Harry Dolan’s third novel, but the first that I’ve read, and is very much an excellent book.

     Dolan’s previous works are Bad Things Happen and Very Bad Men, both featuring David Loogan, the editor of a mystery magazine, Gray Streets, and taking place in Ann Arbor, Michigan. David Loogan is a mysterious, closed-mouth man with a guarded past. The Last Dead Girl is a prequel of sorts and helps to reveal the past that Loogan is reluctant to discuss, a past where his name was David Malone.

     Late in the evening on a wet, rainy road in Rome, NY, David Malone turns around on a hunch to find a young woman outside her wrecked car and a deer lying by the side of the road. Malone thinks the deer is dead, but when the woman gently massages the deer’s flank and head, surprisingly, it rises and walks off into the woods. The experience draws Malone and the woman, Jana Fletcher, into a romance, a short-lived one. Ten days later Jana is brutally murdered in her apartment and Malone is the prime suspect.

     While police seem to just want the case closed in the most expedient way, Malone believes there are deeper motives behind Jana’s death, something evolving from her interest in a murder from years earlier. As Malone begins to track Jana’s past movements and the people she’s talked with, he becomes convinced that she was on the right track, and now those that were afraid of what Jana might find, might be after him.

     The Last Dead Girl is a page-turner and a thriller, yet has a complex, multi-threaded plot. Solidly written and told deftly in multiple points of view and incorporating flashbacks, the story pushes forward. Every transition seems perfectly timed to ramp up the tension and reveal the next clever twist. Characters are well-drawn, multi-dimensional and believable and Dolan gives them dialog that helps them come to life. David Malone (Loogan) is an intelligent, multi-faceted protagonist, with enough flaws to keep him real, and more than enough personality to carry a long series.

     If Harry Dolan isn’t on your To-Be-Read list, you need to put him there right away. You’ll be glad you did.