Fresh Meat: Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage by Stephen Ulfelder

Wolverine Bros. Freight and Storage by Steve Ulfelder is the fourth installment in the Conway Sax Mystery Series about the part-time racecar driver, part-time private eye and full-time recovering alcoholic (available May 6, 2014).

Wolverine Bros. Freight and Storage is the fourth Conway Sax novel by Steve Ulfelder, but if you’ve missed the others, you shouldn’t have too much trouble following this one. Just know that it jumps into the action with both feet at the beginning before it slows down a little so the reader and Conway can both catch their breath.

The book also has one of the stranger names I’ve seen on a “mystery” bookshelf, but frankly, it’s more creative than the ninety-hundred-dozen versions of Evil-Dead-Death-Corpse-Blood-Bad. And, it’s fitting. The big sign advertising the storage company sits up on a hill, overlooking the characters, overlooking the land they’re fighting over, overlooking the story itself.

Her property spanned Route 142, a semi- main drag that wandered northwest- southeast. If you looked across that road, as we did now, you could see most of a HOLLYWOOD- style sign that read WOLVERINE BROS. FREIGHT & STORAGE. Harmon’s Follywood, the locals called it. Harmon being Eudora’s son. Steady guy, local cop forever. Respected.

Dull, if you asked me.

But nobody ever did.

Eudora seldom mentioned Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage, and when she did, she mocked it. Hard to blame her.

That sign, the things it represents and the things it doesn’t, seems to mock everyone involved, but especially Harmon and his wife, Tricia.

Not that they need another reminder of their follies. His big break that fell apart in an injury on the football field that was supposed to bring him glory. His shot at chief that just never seemed to move beyond interim. Debt. Poor business sense. And Tricia who stands by her man, works at the local Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and hits on Conway every chance she gets. Okay, maybe she’s gotten tired of standing by Harmon.

Instead I found myself playing third-rate therapist to an unhappy woman.

Quite a woman… but still.

“People do whiz in your ear, don’t they? There’s something… absorbent about you. I feel as if I my words will go in here”—she put a small hand square on my chest—”and stay there. Forever.”

My face went red. I wanted out now.

“Sorry I busted it,” I said. “I, ah. Sorry.”

I ran out of words.

Sorry you can’t watch a TV show without a secret account?

Sorry your marriage tanked and you’re spying on your husband?

Sorry you spilled your guts to a casual friend who wandered by at

the wrong time?

I made for the front door. Tricia followed, heels clicking on the poured-concrete ?oor, regret pushing ahead of her like a pressure wave.

I had a hand on the doorknob when she grabbed my upper arm. “Let me help you.”

I guess damaged people often seek out damaged people, in real life and in fiction. Tricia’s unhappy marriage straight out of a domestic-disdain sort of novel almost makes her play for the bad-boy recovering alcoholic with the temper and the fierce loyalty to his fellow Barnburners seem inevitable. And since the events of Shotgun Lullaby, Conway’s no longer with Charlene. But don’t think he’ll let a lonely woman, no matter how attractive her freckles, get in the way of an oath to a fellow Barnburner. Or revenge for the death of one. Simple as that.

She looked in my eyes for what seemed like a long time. “Simple as what?”

“Simple as that. Everybody pays.”

“No gray areas?” As she spoke, she shifted her hand from my forearm to my head, pushing her fingers through my hair.

Her face was close to mine. 

The lights were so low in here.

We looked at one another.

“No gray,” I said. “Not this time. Everybody pays.”

And oh, will there be hell to pay.

Conway’s burned a lot of bridges. He’s made some bad decisions. He’s lost some friends. This might be why he’s so loyal to the Barnburners. Loyal to a fault, some could argue. He’ll go through any hell for this crew, but this time, hell hits closer to home than usual. This time, it’s vengeance for one of the old timers, a woman who has in many ways saved Conway from himself, by being the kind of sponsor he needed as well as the kind of friend.

Which makes Conway sound like he wants people to see him as a dangerous oaf, a dumb-but-stubborn ox of a vigilante. He plays the part well, well enough that very few people see past it and a lot of those people are dead or have disowned him. And it makes him sound like the kind of guy no one would want to spend time with, but he does have heart. He’s not fearless, but he likes to think he is.

And he’s a helluva driver.

And the book is a helluva page turner.

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Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).

Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.

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