Eric Beetner first introduced readers to the Iowa-based McGraw and Stanley clans in Rumrunners (280 Steps), in which eighty-six-year-old McGraw patriarch Calvin had pretty much garaged his ride for the last time and the family business—driving for the Stanley clan’s off-the-books enterprises—was being handled by his son, Webb. And even though Calvin was drawn back into things over the course of the wild ride that was Rumrunners, you couldn’t help but wonder what he was like in his prime. Well, wonder no more.
Instead of writing a sequel to Rumrunners, which I still hope he does at some point, Beetner decided to rewind things and give readers Calvin’s backstory.
Though the McGraws have been the go-to drivers for the Stanleys all the way back to moonshine/bootlegging days, Leadfoot finds Calvin on the horns of a dilemma: continue driving for the Stanleys or accept an offer to become a local stock car company’s in-house instructor teaching the young pups how to drive. Having already taught nineteen-year-old Webb everything he knows about outlaw driving, Calvin thinks perhaps it’s time to pass the torch to his son and go legit. Of course, if things were that simple we wouldn’t have much of a book.
Things take a turn for the complicated when during a run with Webb the job goes sideways and blood is shed. Despite the McGraws’ longstanding rule that they are there to drive and nothing more, Calvin finds himself forced to engage in activity “outside the ride,” inadvertently putting himself in the middle of a turf war between the Stanleys and the Cantrell family, interlopers from Nebraska looking to muscle-in on Iowa territory. Things go from bad to worse for the McGraws when Webb, out on his first solo job, loses the precious cargo he was entrusted to pick up and return to Stanley patriarch Hugh. Now, forget about deciding whether or not to go legit, Calvin has to make the right decisions to keep both him and Webb alive.
Eric Beetner is one of the most prolific authors currently working in crime fiction, publishing an impressive combination of novels, novellas, and short stories on a seemingly yearly basis. And though his plots are usually as frenzied as his productivity, Beetner never skimps on character in the process. Indeed, Beetner has a rare talent for combining fast-paced, cinematic-style action with characters you both believe and genuinely care about—whether that’s to love or loathe them may vary.
Far from taking the easy way out by making the Stanleys wear pitch-black hats, Beetner paints them, and their family’s internal struggles, with enough shades of gray to make them infinitely more intriguing than mere caricature villains. And though engaged in a lifestyle well outside the law, and clearly loving it, you never question the innate goodness of the McGraws. Indeed, the strict moral compass they apply to their outlaw code makes the McGraw family one of the most charismatic and engaging set of characters I’ve come across in quite some time.
If you’re ready for a wildly entertaining ride, hop in, buckle up, and put the pedal to the metal with Leadfoot.
Leadfoot is available now from 280 Steps.