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THE HARD STUFF
by David Gordon
Mysterious Press, July 2019
288 pages
$26.00
ISBN: 0802129560


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Last summer, David Gordon made quite a splash when he introduced Joe Brody, bouncer in a strip club, former black ops expert, PTSD sufferer, reader of Dostoevsky, recovering addict, and organizational genius when it comes to a complicated caper. Now Joe is back, still recovering, but hardly recovered, and his crime boss friends need him once again to take on a mission thwarting terrorists as part of a deal the crime bosses struck with the FBI to be more or less left alone.

This time, the terrorists belong to an al Qaeda splinter group and they are selling high-grade heroin in order to fund their terrorist plans. What the crime bosses want Joe to do is simple - to exchange four million dollars in very nice diamonds for the drugs and then have Joe steal the ice back before the terrorists can liquify their assets and convert them into whatever they have in mind for their attack. Easy-peasy, as they say.

First of all, they have to get hold of the diamonds and as you might expect, this does not involve a shopping trip to New York's Diamond District. Well, in a way it does, but no money is expected to change hands. And there is the little matter of a fool-proof safe to crack, which is where Joe's girl friend, the Russian Yelena, comes in. She is very good at safes.

Oh, and there the slight matter of a camp of survivalists and a cache of weapons to be dealt with first and this involves rather a lot of explosive material.

As the plot unfolds, the action become increasing baroque and frequently violent. It is at once brilliantly conceived and not altogether comprehensible, something that could only work between the covers of a book or even better, on screen. Even then, it would require a major suspension of disbelief, but it involves so much snappy dialogue and so many amazing shifts that it be a very stodgy reader indeed who would complain of improbabilities.

Gordon is a superb manufacturer of capers and he is also an excellent stylist. Joe is constructor of ingenious heists and he certainly does not shrink from violence when it appears necessary, but he has a decided intellectual bent and he is on the whole a decent sort when it comes to women, a fairly rare element in novels of this persuasion. And he may be a bit of a romantic. Another player in this complex plot is Liam and, as he drives his wounded friend to a friendly doctor to be patched up he reflects:

he felt, to his surprise, and to use the word that he spoke to himself, silently, tenderness. It was like the end of a gangster movie, an old one, where the heroes...face the end together, one dying in the other's arms, with so much unsaid and yet nothing needing to be said at all.

It was a silly thought, he knew. Romantic. Yet weren't criminals, in some sense, romantics? Even if they themselves would puke at the idea?....They were playing with fate, rolling the dice on their own freedom, betting their lives that it would come out all right, while knowing, in the long run, the odds still ran against them like in gambling or love.

Although Joe is not saying so, these notions would probably strike a chord with the ingenious bouncer. He's had a rough life and has much he'd like to forget if he could. Romance in the usual sense of the word seems to have evaded him so far (though there's a path left open for something of the sort in the next installment). But in the end, after an exhausting run of action, sleights of hand, danger, and death, this is where we leave Joe, sitting with his friend on a boat that bobs up and down in the water, water in which "the sharks were closing in."

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, August 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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