Conservative talk-show host Howie Carr has moved into the realm of fiction with apparent ease. His two previous books were about real-life mob guys and he hasn’t changed that theme. His first novel, Hard Knocks, is a gritty, adventurous romp into the world of politics and mobsters in Boston with enough surprise twists to keep you guessing to the end.
Jack Reilly, former cop and now a discreet provider of information (or as he says, “excrement broker”) for politicians, gets a new client thanks to his younger brother, Marty, who’s serving time in a federal prison. Bucky Bennett wants Jack to keep a package safe, but is murdered execution style before Jack even lays hands on the mysterious “package.”
I liked Jack from the beginning. He’s snarky and sarcastic, which makes for a perfect PI. He has a lot of friends in high and low places, and they’ve all got great stories. I knew immediately that Bucky’s case would put Jack on the road to misadventure, but it was fun to watch the suspense and action build, especially when Jack was trying to think of new ways to pick up Bucky’s package without being seen doing it.
I found a few stereotypes in the story, but the interesting part to me was they fit very well. There’s one politician in particular, Slip Crowley, who’s old-school in every way. He spends most of his evenings going from one funeral home to another to stay in touch with constituents. He’s conservative and outspoken, which made me wonder if he was Carr’s alter ego.
Jack tries to keep his life on a sort of normal path while suffering meetings with several unsavory types who use unpleasant—and painful—tactics to persuade the private investigator to give up what he doesn’t have.
“Let me start over,” he said. “I know you got a pension from the city, but I’m guessing that after alimony and child support and all that shit you basically ain’t got a pot to piss in. We know lots of people. We could throw plenty of work your way.”
Just as I had suspected. Maybe I could get the contract to hit the next Bucky Bennett, after which I would get hit.
“We’re always looking for help, you know, and we both been watching you for a long time.”
Here’s how it works when you’re “partners” with these guys. If the business does great, they assume you’re skimming off the top, because that’s what they’d do. If everything goes south, they assume it’s because you’re stealing, busting the place out, because that’s what they’d do. They don’t want to know how business is. They don’t care. That’s your problem, how business is. They just want to know how much they’re getting this week. Eventually, something happens and you go missing. A couple of days later your picture’s in the Herald, a one- column mug shot, and the caption underneath says “Missing from Usual Haunts” or “Foul Play Suspected.”
Carr did a good job of creating a world of intrigue, deception, and plain ole’ criminal behavior. He also peppered the text with interesting characters like Knocko, Plain View, and Agent Orange, which makes it easier to appreciate Jack’s dark humor.
After a few more minutes of pleasantries and insincere promises to keep in touch, I headed back into the city. It was getting dark as I cruised my block a couple of times. Then I noticed Plain View’s guy, Willie, standing on a corner, smoking a cigarette, trying to look nonchalant, but failing miserably. In my co-moon-ity, he was sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb.
I finally found a legal spot about two blocks south, and began hoofing it home. Willie didn’t spot me until I was less than one hundred feet from him. As soon as he made me, he began openly staring at me, which I now realized was Willie’s real game all along. He wasn’t hiding, he was there to make a statement. Plain View wanted to let me know that this was serious police business.
Thanks for the bulletin, Plain View.
And thanks for the ride, Howie Carr.
Leigh Neely is a former newspaper and magazine editor. She currently does freelance work, recently had a short story published in the anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, and is a contributor to the blog WomenofMystery.net.