against the law david gordon
Book Review / David Gordon / Reviews with Spoilers

David Gordon | Against The Law

Post by Patrick Callan

against the law david gordon

The Book: 

Against the Law by David Gordon, 2021 (Joe the Bouncer series #3)

The Characters: 

Joe Brody
Yelena
Agent Donna Zamora
Gio Caprisi
Robert Richards
Rick Toomey

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get it on Amazon | Bookshop.org


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.

Click here for book spoilers for Against The Law
Book spoilers ahead–if you haven’t yet read Against The Law, I suggest you turn back now.

The Twist: 

Not sure if this necessarily counts as a twist because it is revealed fairly early on in the book but: Zahir doesn’t exist. He’s a fabrication created by Wildwater, a US military contracting group. Robert Richards, their CEO, at one point explains that the sale of White Angel was used to fund terrorist plots overseas, in order to keep politicians and the American people focused on what he and his group thought was the “greatest threat to our way of life: Islam”. Zahir was created as the leader of these terrorist plots and for White Angel itself. Also, “Zahir’s” activities overseas ensured that government funds would continue to flow to Wildwater.

The Ending: 

When Joe and his allies attempt to intercept and steal the latest shipment from cargo hold at the Newark Airport, they find that there are no drugs. It is later revealed that this is because Rick Toomey, the leader of Wildwater’s overseas security forces, smuggled uranium in the latest shipment in lieu of drugs. Uranium is benign and undetectable until it is ionized, which is how he was able to smuggle it into the country undetected. His purpose: to create a bomb to detonate during the 9/11 memorial service at Ground Zero. When he is unable to get his car through the security checkpoint, he decides to detonate it in the basement of Wildwater. He feels that this will be the opening blow in “a final battle for the soul of America and the future of the world” He plans on setting a timer on the bomb and then escaping to a safe distance.Joe figures this out, and he and Agent Zamora race to the building to stop him. Finding the car in the basement, Toomey sets the timer to 3 minutes and challenges Joe to a fistfight while Zamora attempts to disarm the bomb. As Toomey begins to get the upper hand, a shot rings out and they turn to see that Zamora has grabbed both Toomey’s gun and the detonator, stopping the bomb with 9 seconds to spare. Enraged, Toomey attempts to throw a knife at Agent Zamora, who shoots him dead. 

Following all of this, the various crime families wiped out the remaining White Angel distributors, and Yelena took the place of Anton, the leader of the Russian crime family, who had been killed due to his alliance with Wildwater. Joe is paid for his services and returns home. Donna is awarded a medal for her role in stopping the bomb, and later on her mother throws a party. Joe arrives to Donna’s apartment later that night (under the assumption that he is picking up his grandmother, who is friends with Donna’s mother), but Donna is there to meet him instead, and they end up making love.

The Review: 

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.

against the law david gordon

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