Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck is the 1st book in the new Jay Desmarteaux Crime Thriller series.
Jay Desmarteaux walks out of prison after 25 years with a new set of rules learned from mentors inside, survival skills he’s adopted to stay alive, and every mechanics certification they offered. He’s also got some ideas about revenge because—well, because he did his time but wasn’t the only one involved in the crime.
Jay squinted at the road. The only vehicle waiting in the early summer heat was a black Suburban parked at the yellow curb. The wind played with his shock of black hair. He had spent twenty-five years as a monk locked inside a dank Shaolin temple dedicated to violence and human predation while the men who put him there lived free from fear.
Men who needed killing.
As a story of revenge and redemption, this story includes a great deal of violence. One reviewer loosely summarized it as the noiriest noir, and parts of it are very dark. There are a few elements, too, that may be difficult to navigate, so proceed with caution if gore or sexual assault bother you.
At the same time, parts of it are very wholesome and light, particularly the flashbacks of Jay meeting and bonding with friends—both those in prison and outside—before the bullying and the killing and the decades between them.
After the pool closed, Jay and Tony would fish for bullhead catfish in the creeks or play Atari with the twins, killing pixelated purple spiders until their mothers shooed them outside to ride their bikes. They met at Lyndhurst bridge to watch Latino men fish for eels and carp in the brown slick of the Passaic. No one caught anything, so they rode through the jungle of the Avionics grounds until they came to the gates of the town dump.
Humps of mulched leaves rolled from one end of the fenced lot to the other. They rode through the maze, jumping their bikes over the hillocks. Battered old appliances stood in a row, stripped of their parts. At the labyrinth’s end was a sheltered spot overlooking the treetops of a valley below. A small campground littered with teenage artifacts. Crunched beer cans, condom wrappers, cigarette butts, and empty packs of e-z widers.
Pluck deftly weaves Jay’s past and present in ways that don’t feel like anything is dumped in or over-explained. He handles Jay’s inner turmoil with a kind of restraint believable for a character who’s spent most of his life locked up. Jay is at once a guarded cynic and an innocent child left behind by the world. In a lot ways, Jay is still a teenager with a simplistic view of good and bad, right and wrong, and what he can do about it.
“They want a war over this shitbird, they’ll get one.”
“No, they won’t, because you’re gonna apologize,” Cheetah said. “Frankie Dell wants a sit-down. Frankie fucking Dell. I ran his club eight years, I’ve never met the man. And I don’t want to.”
“He wants to talk, we’ll talk. This is on me, brother.”
“Everything’s easy with you. You have no idea what we could be walking into.”
Jay grinned. “I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.”
Which is Jay’s general approach to everything. He wants to find his family, who have left town in the years he’s been in prison. He wants everyone to know the truth about who else helped him kill Joey Bello—and why Joey Bello needed killing. And he wants to do those things with or without a plan. He’s flexible like that.
The why is a story of bullying, legacies of abuse, toxic masculinity, and classism. It’s at once simple and complex, nuanced and blunt—a study in the contrast between the abuses little Jay endured and those endured by classmates. More important than the specific abuse (ranging from nasty bullying and cruel words to exploitation, rape, and pedophilia) is the range of reactions to that abuse, which form lasting impressions and ultimately shape the character of those involved and is a large part of the story.
In many ways, the people Jay met in prison are far more normal than the people he grew up with. Those arrested for crimes like drugs and robbery do their time as best they can, and then try to make the best of life when released. Meanwhile, his former friends manipulate each other, using money, power, and political currency to hold each other down or to elevate them for a price.
Pluck balances Jay between these two worlds: one where power is taken and negotiated through violence, and one where power is negotiated primarily through money, which is constantly being offered to Jay to walk away.
Greg laughed and patted his head. “We’re not the same people we were in middle school. Well, maybe you are.”
Let them think that.
“I should thank you for what you did,” Greg said, puffing. “I tried to, but you refused my gift. Rude. Why would you do that?”
“Because this ain’t about money.”
“Oh, it’s always about money,” Greg said. “Money is the great measurable. Worth nothing on its own. Just paper with a high linen content, some special ink. Its true purpose is to quantify the ineffable. Everything has its price.”
Except Jay doesn’t really seem to have much use for money. He’s a man accustomed to a certain lack of safety and security, with skills that make it fairly easy for him to find under-the-table jobs that fit his record and lack of official paperwork. He has no reputation to maintain, rather he has one he’s looking to shed or at least spread around.
Reacher fans can find plenty to root for in this brawler with a strong sense of justice, and hopefully Jay’s next adventure will prove his longevity.
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Neliza Drew lives in South Florida with her husband and too many cats. When not writing, she teaches kids how to punch each other. Her debut novel, All the Bridges Burning, has been called “a triumph.” She can be found online at nelizadrew.com and on Twitter and Instagram as @nelizadrew.