Max Austin is actually New Mexico mystery author Steve Brewer, who lives in Duke City a.k.a. Albuquerque. Let’s just say he’s got this mystery genre down, with over 20 novels under his belt, and it shows in the new Lawbreakers series. Crooks are people too. They just approach life a wee bit differently from the rest of us. This series doesn’t glorify breaking the law but it humanizes the people who do that. Bottom line and most important: These novels make for very fun, fast-paced reads. And since Duke City Hit features a completely different cast of characters, it reads quite well as a stand-alone novel. If you looking for a fun thrill ride of an e-read at a bargain price, you’ve come to the right place.
Vic Walters is a very well put together looking older man. He dresses nicely in suits and ties, drives a vintage Cadillac and is well liked by all who know him. He jokes with waitresses, is kind to friends and strangers alike, innocently flirts with cute ladies, and is basically the quintessential gentleman. What none of those people know is that he’s also a paid assassin – a hit man.
It’s funny how life turns out sometimes. Vic has been working for Lucky Penny Bail Bonds since he was a young man. At first, as a bounty hunter, he ran down criminals who had skipped out on their court dates and brought them back to face the music. But then he found that he had talents that lay in a slightly different direction. Vic has a natural instinct for methodically planning out and taking down prey neatly and cleanly, and so swiftly that they never know what hit them. Over the past thirty years he’s perfected this skill and prides himself on his work. It’s also meant his fees have risen steadily as his reputation has spread. He still works for the same Albuquerque bail bonds office, just in a slightly different capacity – and no client ever knows who he really is so he also fears no repercussions.
Vic has kept his life very simple. He believes that’s the secret to his happiness. He takes pride in his professionalism and knows he’s one of the best at what he does, if not the best. Still he’s never had any aspirations to move beyond his current job. It works for him. He lives a simple life rent-free in an apartment behind his boss, Penny Randall’s, house with no debts and plenty of money socked away, no enmeshed relationships to muddy the waters, and no ties to hold him down. Neat, clean and no messiness – just the way he likes it.
“A lot of creeps pass through bail bond offices, and some carry grudges. Penny felt safer whenever Vic was home.
In a way, she had inherited Vic along with the family business. Growing up, she thought he was just another bounty hunter, tracking down skips. A courtly man, but steely at the core. Only after her father’s death did she learn about the two men’s profitable sideline.”
One December night Vic gets an odd surprise. When he goes out to take down a Phoenix gangster, he finds the guy already face down in his expensive swimming pool – drowned and dead as a doornail. At first Vic thinks it might be just a coincidence but the more he thinks about it, the odder it seems. It just doesn’t make sense. Still he reports the kill back to his boss and lets it go for the time being. After all, dead is dead and that was what the client wanted achieved after all.
“When he reached the patio, he peeked around the corner. Still no sentry, but a corpse floated face down in the kidney-shaped pool…He lifted the head out of the water and studied the dripping face. Harry Marino, for sure, and he hadn’t been dead long…
…Awfully odd coincidence, Harry drowning in his pool on the very night a hit man shows up to bump him off, but [Vic] didn’t see much he could do about this one.
He decided to consider it a lucky break. Easiest money he’d ever made. But he watched his mirrors all the way back to his motel.”
Then coincidence becomes something else when Vic goes out on a hit job on Marc Troy in Santa Fe. Just as Vic is thinking about putting a bullet in the head of Troy’s dog, who won’t shut up, someone else does it for him. As his intended target stands staring down at the dead dog, Vic takes him out with two bullets to the head. Marc Troy is dead before he hits the ground. But who was the sniper who shot the dog and why didn’t he shoot Vic while he had the chance?
“Either the sniper had fled, or he was letting Vic go. What the hell could that mean? Somebody gives him a hand, shooting the dog, and then lets him pop the target and take off? Vic suddenly had a helper?…Somebody was following Vic’s movements, showing up at his kills.”
There’s only one thing to do, set a trap for whoever is helping Vic out because not only does Vic work alone but he has no clue about the motivation behind these bizarre incidents, and he’s not about to wait around to find out the hard way. There’s only one problem with the trap Vic and Penny plan for his helper – who that helper turns out to be. [Well, there are actually two problems but we won’t go there because of spoilers.]
“He snapped the lamp switch and the room flooded with light. He showed the man his pistol, and said, ‘Keep your hands where I can see ‘em.’
The intruder held his empty hands higher. White guy, mid-twenties, not much more than a kid…He wore a black leather motorcycle jacket over a Harley-Davidson t-shirt, tight black jeans and boots.
‘What are you, a Hell’s Angel?’
The kid smiled. If he was worried about the gun, he sure as hell didn’t show it.”
“The kid had a crescent-shaped scar on the left side of his forehead. Thick eyebrows that rose into arcs as he smiled.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘We got the same eyes.’
‘Our eyes. That pale blue like the eyes of a wolf. We both got ‘em.’
Vic felt a dip in his stomach, as if he’d driven too fast over a bump in the road.
‘I always thought they’d be the same,’ the kid said, ‘but I never could tell from a distance. Not until we were face-to-face.’”
And that’s all you’re going to get about this fun tale. Despite his job, Vic is a very likeable character – closed off to protect himself and his secret profession but still quite likeable. And that gave me shivers. It’s a good reminder that we really only know the surface of who people are. It’s also clear that Vic sees this as a profession and one he’s proud of doing so well. Does he see any problem with what he does? I think he rationalizes that the people he kills are all pretty nasty guys to begin with, guys who bring a lot of misery and never go to jail for what they do. I don’t know if he goes so far as to see it as a public service but he does have standards. In this tale, Vic gets to re-examine his life in an interesting way and he’ll learn things about himself I don’t think he ever expected to learn. Penny and “the kid” will have to remain a mystery until you read the book…
I get a real kick out of reading Max Austin’s Lawbreaker novels. Duke City Hit crosses over from mystery into thriller territory – Yay! It was a fast paced and fast read, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns to keep me glued to the story. For me, it’s a whole new way of looking at the world, from the crook’s point of view. It’s a good reminder that we’re all just people trying to get through life the best way we know how, including people we see as crooks. I’m not excusing people who take that path…and I don’t think Max Austin is either. He’s just shining a light on it, and I’m curious enough to want to see what that light shows about people usually treated like stereotypes instead of human beings. Are these deep novels? Nope; however, they do provide insight and they are tons of fun to read. If you’re looking for a fast, fun read then you might just like it every bit as much as I did. BTW: Duke City Desperado, Book #3 in the series, will be published in June 2015 and Max/Steve is hard at work on Book #4 in the series.
Can’t wait to read it?
Duke City Hit will be published in the U.S. on December 16, 2014 but it’s available now for pre-order from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). This novel only comes in e-book form, and it’s a bargain at only $2.99. If you pre-order now, it will download the instant it’s published.
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