Actually, simple and safe is precisely what Charles “Shake” Bouchon wants. Having lived a life of crime, including two stints in the joint and serving as a wheelman for the Armenian mob, Shake is ready to settle down. In fact, he’s managed to secure his dream, owning a restaurant in Belize.
Alas, simple and safe is not in the cards for Shake. For starters, he had to borrow money from local drug lord Baby Jesus in order to purchase the restaurant, and while Jesus may be patient and compassionate, Baby Jesus is not. He wants his money, and he wants it now. So, it certainly doesn’t help matters when Shake’s place gets shot to hell during an attempted hit on a mysterious older gentleman dining there one evening.
To make matters worse, FBI Special Agent Evelyn Holly is in town and she’d like nothing better than to get Shake under her thumb so she can force him to flip on the Armenian mob. And of course when it rains it pours, so when word of the failed hit makes it back to the people who ordered it they assume Shake is actually the intended target’s bodyguard and green light taking him out too. In fact, they send a stepped up professional to get the job done.
All of which may still have actually been manageable; after all, Shake’s been through worse (Gutshot Straight). Then his restaurant gets blown up. Turns out the original team sent to carry out the hit is lead by a spunky young woman who takes failure personally and will now stop at nothing to finish the job. With nothing left to his name but the clothes on his back, Shake turns to the mysterious older gentleman, Harrigan Quinn, for answers, and that’s when things get really complicated.
Whiplash River, author Lou Berney’s follow-up to the excellent Gutshot Straight, easily cements him as a master of the comedy-thriller. So skillfully are the comedic aspects handled, in fact, that some of the most ominous moments in Whiplash River actually come wrapped outwardly in the cloak of comedy. That pint-sized Peppermint Patty lookalike’s dogged determination to be a criminal is cute…until you realize she carries a big-ass .44 and doesn’t hesitate to toss TNT around. Likewise, Harrigan Quinn comes across on the surface as a slightly flighty old blow-hard…until Shake finds himself involved in a scheme that takes him from Belize to San Francisco to Egypt, the outcome of which has an equal probability of landing him in prison or dead as it does getting him out from under the mess he’s in.
Berney’s writing has been compared to both Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, a more than fair observation. But with due respect to both, I think Berney’s writing actually represents something ever better. He manages this by taking the very best aspects of what makes those authors successful and blending them into a single presentation, smoothly balancing stripped down dialog and sizzling plot with carefully tempered silliness to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts. And damn entertaining at that.
Whether you’re new to Berney’s writing or already hip to it, I strongly encourage you to buckle-up and take a trip down Whiplash River.
Whiplash River is available from William Morrow (ISBN: 978-0062115287).