Most people would certainly think killing two people would cause significantly more problems than not killing one. Then again, most people aren’t 47-year-old mob hitman Lars. Killing’s what he does, and he’s damn good at it. Well, he was until recently anyway.
For the past seventeen years he’s been on the trail of Mitchell “Mitch the Snitch” Kenney, an accountant who turned on Lars’s employer, Nikki Senior, resulting in half a dozen members of “the family” going to prison. Mitch got the Witness Protection treatment from the feds, and at Nikki Senior’s behest Lars has been patiently hunting Mitch down ever since.
Time’s a bastard, however, and both Lars and Nikki Senior are getting old. This doesn’t cause too much grief for Lars, who’s settled into a life of isolation, yoga, and listening to 70’s hard rock while moving throughout the Southwest in his quest to find Mitch.
Nikki Senior’s having more of an issue, specifically with his issue, Nikki Junior. Seems Junior’s ready to take over the family business, and he’s not keen to wait until the old man actually shuffles off this mortal coil. Junior’s making a power-play, and one of his first orders of business is to tie up loose ends…namely, “Mitch the Snitch” and Lars. Junior thinks Lars is a relic, and decides the best way to kill off the old blood is with new; enter hotshot up-and-comer wannabe hitman Trent.
Lars reluctantly accepts the “hand off” of the Mitch assignment to Trent, figuring he’ll babysit the disrespectful punk for a week – not like the kid’s gonna actually find Mitch – and then walk away, retire from the business. Except Trent does come through with a location for Mitch, and Lars realizes he no longer has the desire to kill the guy. Trent’s gung-ho to get the job done, and things go spectacularly sideways when the hitters realize Mitch has a teenage daughter no one seemed to know about. Suddenly Lars finds himself at odds with the family and on the run with a sixteen-year-old wise beyond her years.
In the wrong hands this story could have been a cliché-ridden minefield. Author Eric Beetner, however, is incredibly adept at crafting characters who defy their expected roles. Lars is neither a washed-up has-been nor a stone cold killing machine, doesn’t have an addiction problem, isn’t instantly charmed by his young companion, and doesn’t immediately come up with a sure-fire plan to save the day. He does, however, draw on his twenty-seven years of experience, including some creative use of yoga, to keep one step ahead of the pack on their heels, and has a realistically awkward relationship with Mitch’s daughter, Shaine. Throughout, Shaine hits all the right notes while cycling through a mood carousel of grief, anger, excitement, boredom, and good old fashioned cranky teenager.
There’s no question that Lars and Shaine are in very real danger and blood flows liberally in The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, but there’s also a significant vein of intelligent, sarcastic humor that runs through the book as well. The initial meeting between Lars and Trent is a visual made for the screen — Lars is less than impressed with Trent’s mirrored shades, nose ring, baggy jeans, and rockstar jewelry assortment — and Trent’s ambition and attitude far outweigh his experience and competence, leading to some amusing, if painful, on the job learning.
And despite the fast paced action as the story unfolds in a path of death and destruction from New Mexico to Las Vegas to Los Angeles, at its core The Devil Doesn’t Want Me is a story about relationships and how time and age affects them. Lars and Nikki Senior are from a generation where things like honor, respect and a code of behavior meant something, whereas young guns Trent and Nikki Junior are all about flash over substance and instant, materialistic gratification. It makes for a deadly clash of philosophy. The age gap is also apparent in Lars’s fumbling interactions sixteen-year-old Shaine, his devotion to the “vintage” sounds of bands like AC/DC, Van Halen (the good stuff, none of that Van Hagar crap), Led Zeppelin, and his inability to use a smart phone.
It all adds up to an incredibly enjoyable story that has more depth than your typical hitman/mob shoot-em-up. I certainly hope Beetner has plans to revisit the characters in The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, because Lars makes an extremely appealing lead and I’d love to follow the “retired” hitman on a few more adventures.
The Devil Doesn’t Want Me is available from 280 Steps.