That was ten years ago, and much to his dismay James Singleton, now Washington Stewart, is still spinning his wheels in Witness Protection. True the FBI turns a blind eye to his occasional criminal activity as long as he helps them with various sting operations, but freezing his balls off in godforsaken North Dakota isn’t exactly a fair tradeoff as far as Stewart is concerned.
So when he meets up with a Colonel from the local Air Force Base who also has intentions of fleeing the country, right after completing a drug deal and squaring things up with his cheating wife, it seems like a partnership made in heave. The Colonel agrees to help Stewart get out of the country in exchange for Stewart killing the Colonel’s wife. Good to go, right? Well…
You see, Stewart’s still holding a grudge against mobster Eddie Senta for shooting him in the face ten years ago back in New York during Stewart’s first stint in Witness Protection, and he’s not keen to leave the country until he pays Senta back for the night that left him missing an eye and facially disfigured. Knowing he can’t exactly slip across the country and do the job himself, Stewart designates the task to an underling. And that’s when the wheels start coming off the wagon.
The hit goes sideways, leaving Senta in a coma and his pregnant wife in the hospital. Having a damn good idea who was behind the violence, Mrs. Senta hires PI Alex Pavlik – formerly NYPD Detective Pavlik, the man who worked the original Senta/Singleton shooting case ten years ago – to track down Singleton/Stewart and settle the score. Easier said than done when one whiff that their pet snitch is being tracked will send the FBI scurrying to relocate him yet again.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on in Rough Riders, author Charlie Stella’s sequel to 2001’s Eddie’s World, that’s because there is. Stella, however, excels at keeping the multiple plot lines going, never confusing the reader or allowing any of the angles he’s working to lose steam. Far from it. While the book opens with a bit of skipping around to catch people up on what’s been happening with Singleton, Senta, and Pavlik since we last saw them, as things progress the multiple story lines tighten up and start to come together, a nasty train wreck of convergence in the frozen heartland being the inevitable outcome.
Along the way the reader is treated to some of the finest characterization it’s humanly possible to capture on paper. The characters’ dialog and actions ring so true you can’t help but see Rough Riders play out in your head like a film, with a cast that runs the gamut from a good guy caught up in the fray (Minot, ND Detective Dale Hehn), to a disturbingly appealing amoral chameleon (Singleton/Stewart), to a stomach-turning cold-blooded sociopath (Colonel Schmidt). Tossed into the mix are bungling sidekicks (Stewart’s conversation with his unfortunately named underling Roger Daltry about why he shouldn’t use his real name is laugh-out-loud funny), a sly Lakota attorney, slimy FBI handlers, and various wildcard wives and girlfriends.
Having read Eddie’s World would obviously give the reader a greater sense of context for the events that take place in Rough Riders, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Stella’s always dark, often violent, occasionally humorous Rough Riders more than stands on its own, and is more than worth your time.