I think so much of Lou Berney's first caper novel, Gutshot Straight, that I included it in the mystery chapter for the next edition of Genreflecting. It's funny and fast-paced, with a loveable criminal, Charles "Shake" Bouchon, just what a caper should be. And, poor Shake is no better off in Whiplash River.
The former getaway driver tried to leave his life of crime behind, escaping to Belize and opening a little restaurant on the beach. However, trouble seems to follow Shake. It isn't bad enough that he has to deal with problems behind the scenes. His kitchen staff fights. He has to put out fires, deal with crooked inspectors and enormous cockroaches. It gets worse. He borrowed money from a Central American drug lord, Baby Jesus, to open his restaurant, and business hasn't been great. Special Agent Evelyn Holly from the FBI shows up, wanting him to rat out the Armenian mob in L.A. And, then someone shows up in the restaurant to shoot at one of his customers. Even Shake knows it's time to move on when his restaurant is blown up.
Shake hasn't always been known to make good choices, though. His biggest mistake might have been walking out on the love of his life, Gina. He might have made a bigger one when he decides to team up with Harrigan Quinn, that restaurant customer someone tried to shoot. By the time Shake spends a day listening to Quinn's long-winded stories and outlandish schemes, he might be willing to shoot him as well. But, one of Quiinn's schemes could just team Shake up with Gina again. And, for Shake, that's worth everything.
A good caper has wonderful, well-developed characters. Think of "The Sting," the Ocean Eleven movies or one of my favorite novels, King Con by Stephen Cannell. Lou Berney's books have those same type of loveable losers. Gina sees Shake as "Mr. Nice Guy". Shake sees Gina as someone who "could put together tricky and dangerous and come out with fun." Poor Shake is just a little too insecure, a little too nice. And, he continues to get caught up in trouble. He sees it coming, but it's always too late to avoid it. Gina picks on Shake unmercifully because he wounded her once. Her comments and the interplay between the two of them are funny. And, Harrigan Quinn has a story and a plan to improve every situation. It's a jam-packed cast perfect for a caper novel.
Shake and Quinn pair up in adventures that go from Belize to Mexico to San Francisco then Egypt. The action never quits in Whiplash River. Fans who miss Donald Westlake might just want to catch up with the latest adventures of Shake Bouchon. Readers truly could get whiplash trying to follow the twists and turns in this enjoyable treat.
I have been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. I am a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
It's an honor to be asked to review books, and I'm grateful to all the publishers, publicists, and authors who send me books. Thank you. Reviews will appear on my blog if I've had a chance to read, and finish, the book. If I do not finish a book, I won't review it, and I will not respond to emails asking when, or if, I'll be reviewing a book.
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My Oct. 19, 2009 blog provides full disclosure that I only receive review copies of books, with no other compensation. All review copies are marked as such. If there any any questions, please feel free to contact me.