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This twisting neo-noir mixes Mayberry-esque domesticity with paranoiac Big Sleep double-dealings, set against a panoramic backdrop stretching from Rosewood, N.J., to the very heart of Mother Russia.

Ambitious first-time author Willis pits his affable hero, Nick—a Garden State machinist by trade—against the evil machinations of an elusive organization called Cascades, whose operatives range from a skeletal gent with a penchant for retro slang (“Hunky-dory!”) to, literally, the girl next door. Naturally, nothing is as it seems. Nick will be familiar to lovers of the mystery genre—that amiable schmuck who finds himself dead center in an international conspiracy, fighting for his life, his honor and, eventually, the woman he loves. And she may even love him, too. The convoluted plot turns on the whereabouts of the missing part of a cryptic set of blueprints—in the right hands it’s worth millions; in the wrong, infinitely more. But is the seductive Mila/Margaret really on the side of truth and justice, or is she only looking out for herself? Even closer to home is the mystery of Nick’s too-goofy-to-be-real father and his exact involvement in the whole sordid international affair. And what really happened to Nick’s turncoat sister? Willis stage-manages his oddball cast with flare, if not always finesse; there’s a folksy quality to much of the dialogue that renders the action—happily over the top—a bit too whimsical to encourage the suspension of disbelief. Still, Nick’s endearing aw-shucks demeanor—and a few rather devious bad ends the author devises for the bad guys—help mitigate any missteps. Expect Cold War-style espionage, ruthless killers, explosions, steamy love scenes, lots of corny jokes and doughnuts.

The literary equivalent of your favorite late-night, Jersey-diner comfort food—effortlessly digestible.

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1450281348
Page count: 195pp
Publisher: iUniverse
Program: Kirkus Indie
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