Ever had one of those days?
Your co-workers are at each others throats, debt is piling up, you cant get your mind off your ex no matter how hard you try and then someone tries to shoot one of your customers.
Charles Shake Bouchon is having one of those days.
Whiplash River, the latest novel by Oklahoma City writer Lou Berney, continues the saga of Shake Bouchon, ex-con, former getaway car driver and generally nice guy. Berney blends equal parts action and humor, topped with the right amount of romance, for a summer read thats a firecracker.
Published by William Morrow hitting bookstores Tuesday, the novel is Berneys second to center around Shake. Although it is a sequel to 2010s Gutshot Straight, Whiplash features a new story line and can be read as a stand-alone.
As the novel opens, Shake has finally reached a point of relative stability. Hes achieved his dream of owning a restaurant and life is looking pretty good. But then his prospects literally blow up in his face, and he is forced to go on the lam.
Right behind him are a pair of freelance assassins, a murderous drug-ring kingpin and an FBI agent whose determination to catch Shake is matched only by her killer smile. Shakes only allies are Gina, a former lover and con woman extraordinaire, and Quinn, a mysterious older man whose life Shake saved.
With no other alternative, Shake accepts a job from Quinn to heist a priceless historic artifact. Shake recruits Gina, and the caper takes the pair from Belize to Mexico to Egypt, where Shake discovers that not only have old troubles followed him, but theyve brought new friends.
Worst of all, theres hummus everywhere. Cant a guy catch a break?
The story hits the ground running, keeps running, and doesnt let up until it sprints across the finish line.
Berney does a good job luring in readers with the plot hook, and the witty dialogue and engaging characters keep them there.
When he began writing, Berney said his primary focus was creating characters who could stand up on their own, supporting the story as much as it supported them.
Take Quinn, for example, whom Berney described as a nightmare version of Obi-Wan Kenobi. A mentor figure turned on its head, he is responsible for dragging Shake into many of Whiplash Rivers outlandish scrapes. The character provides much of the comic relief, but he also has a few secrets.
I really have to be invested in each character, even the bad guys, Berney said. When the characters start to come alive on their own is when theres just no better feeling for a writer.
Another big plus is Berneys gift for evoking a sense of place. The tropical coasts of Belize and traffic-choked streets of Cairo lend an air of authenticity. Thats perhaps not surprising, given that the author visited both places prior to writing Whiplash.
For Berney, its work as well as recreation.
I can kind of justify [travel] by saying, well, I have to do research, he said. I take it seriously, trying to get everything right about setting.
All that said, Whiplash River might not be for everyone. If you prefer your literary heroes to be angsty, hard-boiled private detectives with various complexes, look elsewhere.
Whiplash River isnt high drama; its fun, clever and well-written fiction with protagonists you can really root for.
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