Fresh Meat: The Pawnbroker by David and Aimee Thurlo

The Pawnbroker by David and Aimee Thurlo is the series debut of Charlie Henry, now owner of a New Mexico pawnshop after returning from special ops work in Iraq  (available January 28, 2014).

Looking for a new spin on the good cop/bad cop, buddy action story? Then The Pawnbroker by Aimee and David Thurlo is the book for you. It’s got guns, gangs, and gusto.

The main characters, Charles Henry, Navajo, and Gordon Sweeney, Irish-American, are former army buddies who served together in Afghanistan and Iraq. When the story opens, they are starting their new civilian lives after their deployment by becoming business partners who recently purchased Three Balls Pawnshop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The shop had fallen into foreclosure and the pair buy the store from the bank. The former owner, Diego Baza, left the business records in total disarray. Charlie and Gordon need access to the safe in the pawnshop where they believe important business papers are being kept. For a modest fee of $300, Baza agrees to sell the key and combination to the safe. To keep things legitimate, Charlie asks his attorney friend, Gina Sinclair, who also happens to be a former high school girlfriend, to make the exchange.

Simple, right?

Well, not so fast. On the day of the meeting, Charlie and Gordon set up surveillance as Gina and Baza make the exchange. The lawyer gives the pair a nod to indicate that what they want she now possesses. At that moment, however, a van arrives and one of the first shoot-outs of this book takes place. Baza’s killed, Gina lands in the hospital, and, the next morning, there’s a burglar in the pawnshop. The ex-Army guys easily get the upper hand on Eddie Henderson, the burgler, who, in desperation, claims he is there solely to recover some family items special to his grandmother that he pawned. Not seeing Eddie as much of a threat, Charlie and Gordon decide to use him to gather information about Baza, the pawnshop, and its former employees.

That is the opening setup for The Pawnbroker, the new novel by Aimee and David Thurlo, the creators of one of my favorite mystery series featuring Navajo Police Special Investigator Ella Clah. I like these authors because they feature Native Americans with an inside look into their culture. I’ve really grown accustomed to the strong female character in Ella Clah. In this new book, the Thurlos move to the masculine with Charlie and Gordon. Charlie’s character is more than meets the eye. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and I believe more will be revealed about his military experiences in future adventures. The pace of the novel is brisk, with non-stop action: more shoot-outs, more vehicular chases, hand-to-hand fighting in the streets, and general mayhem.

This type of book is not my normal read, but amongst the violence, there is a lighter side with the camaraderie between the two leads that kept me entertained. Take this exchange following a phone conversation between Charlie and Nancy, an Albuquerque police officer assigned to the case who just happens to be Gina’s roommate.

They were almost to the restaurant, in the north valley neighborhood called Alameda, when Charlie finally ended the call. “That went well,” he said.

“Yeah? [Gordon said] How many times did she call you a dumb shit? I lost track after four.”

“She knew she was on speaker, so one of those had to have been for you. Okay, so she thinks we should have handed Eddie over to the APD first thing, I get that. But she saw the light when I said we’d hoped to get more from him by giving him a break.”

“Yeah, and once she hears about that backstreet action with the gangsters in Eddie’s old neighborhood, she’ll know you’re holding back. If we want her trust, maybe we should play straight with her.”

“Yeah, but Nancy is a straight arrow—doesn’t even go barhopping—and for a police sergeant, that’s like…abnormal. If we report every one of our crimes she’ll lose faith in our goodness.”

“I see your point. I also see why she thinks we’re dumb shits,” Gordon said, making a right turn into the El Pinto parking lot.

Naturally, as these things go, Nancy does find out about the “backstreet action with the gangsters.” Her reaction is straight out of the 1980s action/comedy/buddy movie playbook:

Nancy cleared her throat before speaking [to Charlie], and crossed her arms across her chest. “Officers got a call this morning about a short-lived melee that took place over in a Westside residential area. Neighbors say a big Indian and a little Anglo did a Rush Hour beat down on a local gang.”

“Hmmmm. I’m a Lethal Weapon fan, myself, fighting for the common good. Did anyone happen to get a license number on those thugs?”

“Hmmmm back at you.”

I found myself chuckling over passages like these. It did take me to the movies and I felt like casting this movie myself, with Lou Diamond Phillips as Charlie and Simon Pegg as Gordon. Now that would be a fun movie. But in the meantime, I am willing to see where the Thurlos take these new characters.

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Vanessa L. Parker is a jewelry artist and avid reader. You can see her work at Betoj Designs.

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