Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Great Debut Novel from Lou Berney

When Charles "Shake" Bouchon walks out of prison a free man, he's determined to walk the straight and narrow. He dreams of opening a small restaurant, but no sooner does he hit L.A. than his old boss and former lover, Alexandra Llandryan, asks him for a small favor. Alexandra is the head of the Armenian mob in L.A., and she'd like Shake to drive a car to Vegas and leave it with an obnoxious and obese strip club owner named Dick Moby. Not surprisingly, Moby is known as "The Whale."

Alexandra offers Shake three thousand dollars and a guy fresh out of prison could certainly use the cash. He accepts the offer and en route to Vegas late that night, out in the middle of the desert, the car begins to make a strange noise. Shake stops, opens the trunk and discovers to his amazement, an attractive young blonde, lying there bound and gagged. She's managed to free one leg and has been kicking against the side of the trunk, hence the noise.

Shake is naturally stunned. This is the package he's supposed to be delivering to the Whale? He removes the woman's gag and she explains that she's a housewife with two small children and that she lives in Vegas. Even though they are Mormons, her husband is a degenerate gambler who disappeared while they were vacationing in California. The next day, two thugs kicked in the door to her hotel room and kidnapped her.

Shake assumes the obvious: the woman's husband is deep in debt to the Whale who intends to hold her hostage, or worse, until the husband pays up. Shake knows he will be in deep trouble if he fails to deliver the package, but ex-con or not, he's a relatively decent guy who can't bring himself to seal this poor woman's fate by completing the job he was hired to do.

What follows is a great story, filled with suspense and humor, and populated by a cast of terrific characters. The action moves from California to Vegas to Panama; it involves large sums of money, some very rare religious relics, strippers, gangsters and conventioneers. What more could a reader possibly want?

Lou Berney is, most recently, the author of the much-honored The Long and Faraway Gone, another great read. This was his debut novel and it's a clear winner. It should appeal in particular to fans of the late Elmore Leonard at his prime; it's really that good.

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