Fresh Meat: Beluga by Rick Gavin

Beluga by Rick Gavin
Beluga by Rick Gavin
Beluga by Rick Gavin is the second book in the humorous noir series featuring former cop Nick Reid and his partner Desmond (available October 30, 2012).

In Rick Gavin’s second outing starring former cop Nick Reid and his partner, man of few words Desmond, Desmond’s former brother-in-law, fresh from prison, has commandeered a load of Michelins that need to be sold quick. Nick and Desmond just happen to have a little extra cash, and decide to “invest” in the tire haul, in spite of initial misgivings. Turns out they really should have listened to their instincts, because some very nasty people are connected to those tires, and they’re not afraid to lay some serious hurt on Nick and the gang. Nick and Desmond are no pushovers, though, and they’re more than ready for a fight.

Told in Nick’s wry voice, Beluga, the name Desmond’s brother-in-law took as his legal name while in prison, is a twisty (and twisted) crime romp, but what sets it above the rest are Nick’s dry, often hilarious ( I laughed out loud more than once) observations of the people that populate his world.

When Nick and Desmond go to Shawnica’s (Desmond’s ex-wife) house to hear Larry’s pitch on his new enterprise, Nick gives us a bit of background on Larry.

While the rest of the cons were studying law books and writing their appeals, Larry petitioned the state to let him become Mr. Beluga S. LaMonte. It was his way, I guess, of starting fresh without doing anything constructive.

Desmond catches Larry getting popcorn grease all over the afghan that Desmond’s aunt knitted Shawnica as a wedding gift, and needless to say, this sets Desmond off.

By the time Desmond said, “Larry, dammit,” there was nothing I could do. Once Desmond had decided a boy needed scuffing up, you couldn’t really hope to stop him.

Desmond chuffed like a bear, crossed the room in two strides, and snatched Larry off the sofa. Popcorn went all over the place, along with all of Shawnica’s remotes.

After Desmond roughs him up a bit, Shawnica comes into the room and puts a stop to the roughhousing.

Shawnica blamed me. She always blamed me. She came storming over to wag a finger directly under my nose. So I got a full dose of her gardenia scent and the music of jangly bracelet clatter.

“Uh-huh,” she told me. I took it to mean that me and Desmond were living down to her expectations.

Larry had decided he’d better stay on the floor. He laid there checking for injuries. Larry was fine, of course. He was always fine. Larry was indestructible as a cockroach and far luckier than he had any need to be. A fellow chasing him by a rifle once had been felled by his own ricochet, and some Little Rock Mafia hard-ass who Larry had sorely offended found Jesus for no good reason and let Larry off the hook.

Larry had grown to think, the way people will, that that was how the world worked. So he’d get all shirty when he’d meet with minor upsets, like getting pitched around his sister’s front room by her former husband.

This pretty much sets the tone for what kind of intellectual giants Nick and Desmond will be dealing with for most of Beluga, and although prone to bouts of casual violence, and investing their ill-gotten gains where they probably shouldn’t, Nick and Desmond are a veritable oasis of sanity in a sea of  Delta backwoods crazy.

Even Nick’s elderly landlord Pearl, who at first seems like she will only be a minor character (and owner of the basement in which Desmond and Nick hide their cash stash), provides plenty of (rather charming) entertainment as the story progresses. Pearl has a penchant for prattle and is a horrid cook, but she’s super sweet and about as accepting as one can get considering the kinds of folks Nick gets involved with. Unfortunately, when they have to hide a couple of folks at her place, Shawnica almost falls for one of her culinary creations.

Just then, Shawnica held up a plastic container with something purple and green inside it.

“Miss lady?” she said.

“Trifle,” Pearl told her. “You have all you want, sugar.”

Me and Desmond tried to warn her off. We shook our heads at her, anyway, but Shawnica peeled off the top and went hunting for a spoon. She’d almost even eaten a little before the smell impressed itself upon her. That item might have been trifle once, six or seven months ago. That was the trouble with Pearl’s refrigerator. Archaeological cuisine.

Pearl eventually proves an asset in an increasingly volatile situation, and as you’ve probably already guessed, the load of Michelin rubber that Larry and his friend Skeeter liberated are attached so some pretty nasty folks, and they’re looking for blood.

In between dodging the psychopaths and idiots chasing them, running down repos at the local rent to own store, and babysitting the infuriating man-child Larry, Nick and Desmond have their hands full. However, in the chaos that ensues, our hero Nick keeps a cool head, especially in a fight.

I was fully decided to let Jasper come in and do his worst. I figured I could cover up well enough and take it. It was a good plan, but then Jasper spoiled it all when he came storming in and hit me.

It was more of a smack really, but there wasn’t any foreplay at all. Jasper didn’t ask me if I’d rather just confess or if I had details I might want to volunteer about what had gone on at the Walmart. He just charged through the door, flung it shut behind him, and came straight over and clapped me across the ear with his open beefy hand.

Jasper popped me again with his open hand. It was like getting hit with a sack of gravel.

Now, it’s one thing to tell yourself you’ll just take a beating, especially from a muscle-head dope like Jasper, and it’s something else entirely to actually sit there and take it. Every scrap and fiber of me was desperate to punch him back, so I was dodging him and fighting me, but I soon knew what was coming.

The trouble with people generally is they’re not detail oriented. That’s particularly true, I’ve discovered, in the Deep South. There they’d go to the trouble to drill a hole in a perfectly good tabletop and had positioned it so you could lock a regular handcuff bracelet through it. But nobody had bothered to fix the table to the floor. It was a smallish table but stout. I knew I could pick it up.

So while Jasper had his fists and his sculpted physique, I had the biggest nunchuck a fellow would probably ever need.

I picked that table up level and whipped it around. Jasper’s shoulder broke off the near leg as the table edge met the side of his head and knocked him into the wall. I rammed the whole thing into his midsection. Jasper was still a little stunned. Then I wheeled around with it and hit him again, and it started breaking apart.

So, I was loose enough soon to grab up a leg and raise it over Jasper, but there at the last second I decided just to punch him in the face instead. A couple of blows and Jasper went still and silent.

So I just sat back down and waited, prepping my explanation. I tried out various versions of “Jasper slipped.”

Nick’s gonna need all the fight he’s got in the final showdown, which includes a horde of rednecks with way too many teeth (nothing supernatural here, just a disturbing family trait), the very creepy member of an uppercrust plantation family, and a homicidal ninja schoolgirl with a knack for torture. Yep, I’ll leave her for you to discover, and she’ll chill you right to the bone.

The southern setting provides a perfect backdrop for a cast of characters that are, by turns, crazy, relentlessly homicidal, and criminally idiotic, as well as charming and oozing with southern hospitality. The standout in this Delta noir is the author’s ability to mix the absurd with reality and create utterly believable and at times, laugh-out-loud-funny situations.

See coverage of more new releases in our Fresh Meat series.


Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at mybookishways.com, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all Kristin Centorcelli’s posts for Criminal Element.

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