Bust by Ken Bruen, Jason Starr

(Max & Angela, #1)

The mean streets of New York City meet the brutality of Irish gangland in Ken Bruen and Jason Starr's Bust, the first collaboration ever between these two crime fiction icons. As cold-hearted as it is darkly comedic, this noir mystery has it all: illicit sex, blackmail, double-crossing, and a virtual cornucopia of unsuspecting murder victims.

Max Fisher, aging CEO of NetWorld, is not a happy man. But if he can somehow figure out a way to get rid of his nagging wife, he'll be able to carry on with his wildly self-indulgent, Viagra-fueled existence of drunken business meetings, excursions to seedy strip joints, and, most important, his ongoing affair with his executive assistant -- an Irish-American bombshell named Angela. Fisher hires a hit man, a former IRA thug nicknamed Popeye, to kill the "redundant" wife; but what the balding chief executive doesn't realize is that Popeye is secretly Angela's boyfriend -- and the murder they're planning is another one altogether.

It is true this one has so many twists and turns you feel washed, scrubbed, and tumble-dried when it’s over. At first it seemed like a clever ploy going down, but toward the middle, end-center it really took off as unique and brilliant with plot execution.

I didn’t latch on in the beginning…the writing style of the opening scene was well-arranged and kept me searching, but then it seemed to slow with Angela to things that, while I could keep reading, it just dragged too much. It didn’t help that none of the characters are likeable here. This is a trademark of Hard Case to have characters you don’t latch on to, but these are really all to be despised.

I didn’t realize it was a black comedy sort until some of the funnier stuff started happening later – the herpes was hilarious, then almost getting old, then funny again. When humor arose it was refreshing and took some of the pressure off the winding tale. Everyone deceives, double crosses, and fools everyone here.

While there are many players, it is certainly NOT a character-orientated novel. Purely plot-driver, and while the story was all over the place, it still almost manages to sustain believability. After the weaker pacing, build-up, the pacing took off and never let go of the rush afterword. Dark humor reared its head in a few places, making me doubt myself at times if it was intended or not. Once the book is through, though, it’s evident it was always there waiting to be discovered.

As for the ending? As is typical with these crime noir books, irony is rich but karma isn’t always dependable.

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