Joe Kurtz, out of Joe Conrad, out of Heart of Darkness, and clearly out of luck after 12 bitter years in Attica, knows that someday he’ll die violently. But he’s not about to let that day come today or tomorrow, and certainly not at the hands of stumblebums as inept as the Three Stooges, those ham-handed hit men sent after him by crime boss “Little Skag” Farino. Swiftly doing for two of his feckless assailants, Kurtz leaves the third Stooge to freeze in a typical Buffalo blizzard. Little Skag, last encountered in Kurtz’s slam-bang debut (Hard Case, 2001), and now himself an Attica resident, seems decidedly ill-disposed, and Kurtz can’t figure out why. Never mind; he has other enemies to worry about, from Little Skag’s gorgeous, lethal sister, busily hiring her own corps of Kurtz-hunters, to Chief of Detectives Robert Gaines Millworth. Captain Millworth, a sociopathic chameleon and rampant nutcase, is a ring-tailed wonder at shedding identities and merrily murdering everyone in sight as he fashions each new made-for-homicide persona. He knows Kurtz is on to him. In a bristling climax, these two stone killers take each other on mano à mano, the loser to exit in a body bag.
Kurtz, out of Simmons—a spellbinder who hops from SF (A Winter Haunting, 2002, etc.) to thrillers (The Crook Factory, 1999, etc.), leaping genres like a literary rabbit—makes a riveting protagonist for the noir-is-beautiful crowd.