STOLEN VALOR by Craig  Rainey


From the "Carson Brand" series, volume 1
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Rainey’s (Massacre at Agua Caliente, 2018) action-adventure series starter tells of one man’s journey from construction worker to deadly foe of a drug cartel.

Carson Brand, whom everyone calls “Brand,” is a man who’s good with a hammer—he makes a living constructing buildings in the greater San Antonio, Texas, area—as well as with his fists. When he’s not working, he likes to cool off by having a few drinks at a local bar, but if trouble should spring up, he’s not one to back down from, or lose, a fight. He also enjoys taking weekend trips to Mexico during downtime with his longtime friend and colleague Bert. While these excursions are mostly harmless fun, they also find that they sometimes get into trouble south of the border. This is particularly the case after Bert, a married man with a reputation for philandering, messes around with the wrong woman. One day on a job site, an altercation breaks out between Bert and a man who claims that the former was touching his girlfriend: “Bert’s all-consuming desire for the fairer sex seemed to keep him continually poised at the brink of catastrophe.” The incident seems minor, at first, but Bert and Brand’s next trip to Mexico results in mayhem. Once the dust settles, Bert is dead, and Brand will learn that there was more to his friend than he knew. It turns out that Bert was involved with a drug cartel that ultimately found reason to eliminate him. Now, Brand is next on their list of targets. Will he have what it takes to survive an onslaught of professional killers?

Some of the novel’s early sections drag a bit; for example, the most exciting thing that happens during Bert and Brand’s initial trip to Mexico is that they eat with a local cab driver. However, the pace quickens with plenty of scenes involving bullets, punches, and harrowing escapes; soon after Brand seduces a dangerous woman, for instance, he’s breaking through a cheap motel wall to get at some bad guys. The main problem with the narrative, though, is that there simply isn’t very much for Brand to learn. The very first scene of the novel shows him wiping the floor with a barroom foe, so readers never feel that he’s in much danger later on; if he learns anything from his adventure, it’s that he’s every bit as tough as he imagined—if not more so. Certain portions of the novel can be somewhat repetitive, as when Brand repeats information about Bert to the police even though the reader already knows exactly what happened. Ultimately, though, the book does manage to build up some suspense, as the protagonist leaves a trail of bodies in his wake; one can’t simply kill bad guys indiscriminately without paying some kind of price for it, eventually. What that price will be remains in play until the very end of the novel, when Brand’s circumstances are inevitably altered.

An impressively violent adventure that moves at a quick pace.

ISBN: 978-0-692-04387-5
Page count: 347pp
Publisher: Craig Rainey Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2019