The Backlist by Frank Zafiro & Eric Beetner

RumrunnersOh, Christ. I was being laid off by the mafia. — Bricks

Paula “Bricks” Brickey is a mafia legacy. Her father, Antonio, served long and faithfully, even going so far as to do a stretch in prison rather than rat out the family. It’s why even as a woman she was able to get a foot in the door to do more than answer phones, though her skill and efficiency more than earned her a place as a button (wo)man once she got a chance to show her stuff.

Cameron Lowe is also a mafia legacy, though with not nearly the skill, polish or prestige as Bricks—hell, he doesn’t even have a cool nickname. Cameron grew up hanging around his uncle Rocco’s crew, happy to run whatever errands they sent him on. And though he’s now a grown man, he never really grew beyond his role as a glorified errand boy. Until now.

Seems not even the mafia is immune to a severe downturn in the economy, and when several high-ranking capos decide to head south with part of the family business things get critical financially for the boss Bricks and Cameron work for—downsizing is in order.

As there will only be room for one button man on the payroll in the family’s future, the boss decides to have a competition: both Bricks and Cameron will be given a list of “overdue accounts” to settle, and whoever turns in the most impressive performance will get the job. For Bricks it means proving she deserves to stay. For Cameron it’s a chance to prove he’s ready to step up.

And with that setup, The Backlist, a wickedly dark-humored offering from co-authors Frank Zafiro and Eric Beetner, is off and running. Bricks and Cameron are both given a list of three “accounts” to settle, and each becomes increasingly more challenging. In some cases the challenge is literal—Bricks walks into a hit having been given bad intel and is caught severely off guard; Cameron finds an intimate hit suddenly taking place in a crowded pool hall—but it’s the emotionally challenging ones that take the real toll. Along the way, Bricks begins to question what legacy and loyalty are really good for, as Cameron begins to wonder if fulfilling his lifelong dream of finally becoming a “made man” and full insider is really worth the price of admission.

And while the subject matter is at times quite serious—the way Bricks handles one particular assignment is actually downright touching—as is the violence, matters are tempered with well-timed bits of dark humor, both physical and verbal. Bricks has never met a one-liner she didn’t like, and Cameron’s lack of polish makes for some incredibly awkward, and darkly amusing, settling of accounts—so much so, he finally earns a dubious nickname: Slaughterhouse. By the time their final auditions are cued up, a surprise fourth account for each, Bricks and Cameron have reached a point where they’re ready to question everything, and everyone.

Co-authored ventures are tricky, as it can be quite jarring if the two authors’ writing styles don’t mesh well. Not only is that not a problem in The Backlist but, quite the opposite, Zafiro’s and Beetner’s styles compliment each other exquisitely. While Bricks and Cameron each have distinct voices when telling their portion of the story, their alternating chapters come together like the teeth of perfectly synced gears, moving the plot along smoothly and seamlessly to a satisfying, and explosive, conclusion.

Not that everything is wrapped up with a bow on top—that wouldn’t leave anything for Bricks and Cameron to tackle in the already announced sequel, The Shortlist.

The Backlist is available from Down & Out Books (ISBN: 978-1943402014).

Eric Beetner is the author of Rumrunners, The Devil Doesn’t Want Me, Dig Two Graves, The Year I Died Seven Times, White Hot Pistol, Stripper Pole At the End Of The World and the story collection A Bouquet of Bullets. He is co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. When not writing he lives and works in Los Angeles where he edits and produces TV shows. To learn more about Eric, visit his website.
Frank Zafiro was a police officer from 1993 to 2013. Many of Frank’s stories take place in the fictional setting of River City, a mid-sized city in Eastern Washington, with recurring characters. His first River City novel, Under A Raging Moon, was originally published in 2006. The second, Heroes Often Fail, was originally published in 2007. Over fifty of his short stories have been published in ten different anthologies, as well as print and online magazines. He was a finalist for the Derringer Award in 2006 (“Good Shepherd”), 2007 (“The Worst Door”), and 2009 (“Dead Even”). To learn more about Frank, visit his website.
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