Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps

There's the kind of crime writing that's understated and the kind that throws caution to the wind.  Nick Kolakowski's A Heartbroken Bunch of Brutal Saps falls squarely into the second category.  Kolakowski, until now known for his shorter fiction (he's also an editor for the flash fiction site, Shotgun Honey), doesn't play it safe in his first longer work, a novella, and his willingness to tell a tale gleefully over the top almost from page one pays entertainment dividends.

A Heartbroken Bunch of Brutal Saps alternates between the first person voice of a professional killer and third person narration centered around Bill, a man who begins the story "dangling upside-down over a pit, ankles wrapped in heavy chains, sweat stinging his eyes, head throbbing like a dying tooth." Bill is a guy with business acumen who involved himself in a number of shady activities in New York City, and being a total conniver at heart, he manages to embezzle a lot of money from his employers.  This is white collar crime that will result in something more dire than a country club prison sentence, however, because his employers happen to be a criminal organization called The Rockaway Mob. We don't get many details about The Rockaway Mob, but we do know one thing for sure: taking their money is an unwise choice that will only bring a death sentence down on the perpetrator.  Bill knows this as well as anyone, and he's made his plans to flee New York and get out of the country.  He has a "spectacularly anal-retentive escape plan".  It consists of him driving southwest in a beat--up convertible bought for cash.  He's got stolen identities in his wallet, expense money in a duffel bag in the car's trunk, his sizable nest egg in an online account.  All he needs to do is get out of the country and he'll be able to kick back with his money in the tropics.  As he drives, he sees no one on his tail and clear road in front of him. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, of course, when Bill's car acts up and he has to pull off the road just past Tulsa, Oklahoma. He stops at a remarkably grubby restaurant for a bite and some beer and shots, and here his nightmare truly begins.  The town he's stopped in harbors dangers he never suspected, and the hit man the Rockaway Mob hired to find and kill him turns up.  The town representatives, Bill, and the hit man each have their own agendas, and how the imbroglio among these three players shakes out is in doubt until the very end. Kolakowski knows how to plant his twists to keep the reader on his toes. Progress for a person turns into a setback turns into an apparent escape turns into yet another reversal.  It all reads very fast and the author has a light touch; he wants his readers to have fun.  He knows just how far to push the twists and the action without making his tale a complete cartoon.

A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps is the first in a prospective series.  It's the opening salvo in what's called "A Love & Bullets Hookup".  And true to this description, for all the bullets that fly in the story, for all the lovingly rendered violence, love plays a large part, too, though Nick Kolakowski is way too cynical and smart a writer to let anything here become sentimental. He's good at writing banter between men and women, and he can sharply etch, in a sentence or two, the ridiculous self-pity men can wallow in when reflecting on relationships gone bad. The word "Saps" is not in the book's title for nothing; guys who fancy themselves the toughest son of a bitches around can be as soft as melted taffy on the inside.

Where the series goes next is anybody's guess, but volume one gets things going well.  There's blood, wit, and romance under duress.  A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps delivers the goods in unapologetic pulp style.

You can get A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps at Amazon right 

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