BREAK SHOT by Darren Musial


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In Musial’s debut thriller, a former Army Ranger working at a pool hall turns detective when he becomes a person of interest in a murder investigation.

Max Deacon is just a guy earning his keep at Dougie’s Pool Hall in Chicago. But his scuffle with a few goons impresses Luna Del Playa so much that she asks for his help. Apparently, Luna and her gal pals at Mellon’s Bar and Grill are being sexually harassed by their boss. Max stops by the restaurant and roughs up Marky Sanchez, but a few weeks later, Marky gets a bullet in the head and another in the chest. Cops take an immediate interest in Max, who goes about trying to clear his name. He can’t decide between suspects Praxibus Sanchez (Marky’s gangster father) and Hector, a bookie to whom Marky owed a hefty debt. It seems Max is on the right track when someone shows up at his apartment to kill him. Now Max needs all the support he can get, and luckily he’s got boss Dougie, Army buddy Moose, and cop brother Stan on his side. Author Musial deftly complements the contemporary setting with a traditional detective story: a night owl who often works the late shift, Max smells like cigarettes from the pool room (even though it’s illegal to smoke in there), and his dark past, which includes time in Iraq, leads to PTSD and recurring nightmares. Max’s friends and colleagues are a winsome, motley bunch, even Dougie’s day-shift employee Wally, who speaks broken English with a thick Polish accent. The ladies are unfortunately not as engaging; they’re predominantly eye candy for the men. Max starts a (mostly physical) relationship with Mellon’s bartender Gwen, but she’s interchangeable with any of the other female characters, from Luna to Max’s co-worker Sharon. Musial, however, loads his story with shocking moments, including a torture scene that redefines the word pincushion. There’s also tough-guy dialogue with a delicate sprinkling of humor: a beaten and bloody Max blames his condition on a door-to-door salesman—“gave me the hard sell on a set of steak knives.” This could conceivably—and hopefully—be the first in a series to feature the unseasoned but capable gumshoe.

An imposing, unforgettable modern take on the classic detective story.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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