Post by Patrick Callan
The Plot (from Goodreads):
Joe is an ex-Special Forces operative with a bad case of PTSD and some substance abuse issues, trying to rebuild a simple life as a strip club bouncer living with his grandmother in Queens. But this simple life is constantly complicated by the fact that, at the invitation of a childhood friend, now a Mafia boss, Joe also moonlights as a fixer for the most powerful crime families in town.
In his newest assignment, Joe is sent to take out a shadowy figure named Zahir, the faceless name behind White Angel, a powerful new brand of heroin invading the mob’s territories and threatening their sales. Then Joe discovers a link between Zahir and a shady group of private military contractors, and the stakes of his mission become increasingly deadly.
Soon the Five Boroughs are on the verge of an all-out drug war, pitting Joe and the crime world’s most infamous talents against a ruthless clan of professional killers. Joe’s only chance to calm the violence is to intercept the newest shipment of Zahir’s product—if his skills as a master thief prove up to the task.
I’ve got something special for you guys today: a guest review from my boyfriend, Patrick! Penzler Publishers was generous enough to gift us this ARC of Against The Law, and Pat picked it up first so I asked him to write me a review when he was finished. I asked him some questions to point him in the direction of how I write my reviews. The following are his thoughts:
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this book was part of a series until I had already started reading. There are two previous books in the Joe the Bouncer series, The Bouncer and The Hard Stuff. However, the author did a great job of making this book work as a standalone, with enough backstory to get the gist even though I missed the previous two books. There were a few side plots that were a little hard to be engaged with due to the lack of the full backstory, but they luckily didn’t detract from the main story. Also, the ending with Joe and Donna would have probably been more impactful had I read their interactions in the previous two books.
Plot pacing: For the most part the pace was fast. There were occasional moments between the action where the pace slowed, but it was fitting.
Plot: The whole idea is an interesting concept: a bouncer who acts as an enforcer and fixer for the various mob families of New York. Even crazier is the idea of these various mob families going up against a paramilitary organization in an all out drug war, but it works. You end up rooting for a bunch of characters who frankly aren’t good people. But it’s okay because the “good guys” are written in an incredibly likeable way, and for all the bad things they do, the bad guys are worse.
I enjoyed the structure of the plot as well; jumping between Joe’s exploits, Zamora’s investigation into White Angel, and the activities of Wildwater, and then seeing how the three slowly came together and entwined.
The plot is also very topical: the whole reason that the villains are able to get away with what they are doing for as long as they have is because they were essentially able to feed into, monetize and weaponize the Islamophobia that has persisted since 9/11. It’s unfortunate that this is still a feasible scenario, but it works for the purpose of the story.
Characters: Overall I thought that the characters were well written. I felt like I was missing a bit of backstory and characterization with some of the main characters like Joe and Agent Zamora, but that’s to be expected when you jump into the third book of a series. Joe is what you would expect from a former Special Forces operative with a case of PTSD, but has enough of an “everyman” feel that makes him easy to root for, even if he is technically working for dubious people. And, he’s a Mets fan, which is always a plus in my mind. Yelena, Joe’s occasional partner, is a great companion, and the banter between the two characters is great. They come across as kindred spirits, even though they come from greatly different backgrounds. Honestly, I got most of my enjoyment from the various side characters that Joe interacts with. Having grown up hearing my Irish father say “eejit” all the time, it was fantastic to read Liam, Joe’s Irish associate, use it frequently. Fusco, an NYPD detective who is assisting Agent Zamora in the White Angel investigation, while also secretly working for Gio, is another highlight. It was entertaining to see him juggle between his duties as a detective, while also doing his best to cover for Joe, Gio, and the others. The author also does a great job with the various crime bosses of the city, giving each of them distinct personalities. Gio is given the most material, due to his close connection to Joe, but there is enough written about each of the bosses to make them feel like their own characters, as opposed to just lifeless mobsters. And seeing as this is the third book in the series, I imagine that going back one would get even more backstory on these various characters.
If I had one major critique in terms of characterization I would say that I wouldn’t have minded if the villains had been fleshed out a bit more. Obviously the main draw was Joe and the interactions between him and his allies, and with regards to that Richards, Toomey, and the rest of the antagonists served their purpose well as foils to the main characters. However, the most compelling villains are the ones who feel like what they are doing is justified, and as ill advised as they were, Richards and Toomey believed that they were fighting for the future and soul of the country, so I wouldn’t have minded seeing that be explored a bit more.
Did you like the ending? There is definitely a conclusive and satisfying ending to this story, but it does leave a few threads open to be explored in potential sequels, mainly the relationship between Joe and Agent Zamora, as well as the fate of Victoria, the mysterious assassin who had been employed with Wildwater, who escaped by the end of the book.
Writing style: Easy to read and flows well. The action scenes were great; exciting enough to keep you engaged and on the edge of your seat, but also feasible and not embellished. I never felt like Joe or his friends were some superhuman warriors that couldn’t be killed and were surviving completely outlandish situations. The banter between the characters was great as well.
Would you read a sequel and/or more books by this author? I would be interested to go back and read the first two books of this series, and see how we got to the events of this book. I’d also be interested in reading any potential sequel.