—Publishers Weekly (starred review) SHADY CROSS
“This outstanding crime thriller from Hankins (Brothers and Bones) grabs the reader by the scruff of the neck and never lets go. When second-rate crook Stokes ransacks a wrecked car that’s run off a country road near Shady Cross, Ind., he discovers that the dead driver had a knapsack stuffed with $350,000; the bad news is that Stokes also finds a ringing cell phone that announces the money was ransom for the dead man’s little daughter.
His first impulse is to ditch the phone and run with the cash. Instead, Stokes plays along with the kidnappers over the phone, trying to figure out their plan and save the child. He has no experience as a hero, and the new role forces him into situations that are deadly dangerous and grotesquely hilarious—while the kidnappers keep calling every hour to threaten the girl.
Hankins skillfully keeps the story from going warm and fuzzy as Stokes gropes toward redemption.”
—BookList SHADY CROSS
“Antihero is too kind a term for Stokes. He’s an ex-con; he robs the fellow on the next bar stool. He abandoned a wife and daughter because they were too much trouble. His last break-in may have left the householder dead. And he carries this fine, offbeat novel. The author’s skill in bringing this off is magical, since Stokes is not an engaging rogue—though his droll humor is evident—and he’s not a heel with a heart of gold like those Bogart characters.
When he comes upon a backpack loaded with cash and learns it’s to ransom a little girl who’s being tortured, his immediate reaction is to blow town with the money, the hell with the kid. Fate intervenes, and Stokes is off on a twisty plot that brings him up against people—some outwardly splendid—who could give him lessons in baseness.
As the narrative winds to its hurtful conclusion, we understand that by trying to rescue the girl, Stokes rescues himself. We also know we’ve read a novel crammed with crackling dialogue and characters who are, unfortunately, all too true to life.”
— Booklist (Don Crinklaw)
(starred review) BROTHERS AND BONES
"A prosecutor and a homeless man team up against a murderous conspiracy in this rollicking thriller.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlie Beckham is thrown for a loop when a deranged man on a subway platform addresses him by a nickname known only to his long-lost brother Jake. The problem is that Jake’s been presumed dead for 13 years.
Charlie scours Boston’s back alleys for the elusive vagrant and finds a grizzled amnesiac named Bonz with the grooming of a sasquatch, the fighting chops of a Navy SEAL and serious mental instability. Soon, Charlie’s life collapses:
He blows the biggest case of his career, a colleague, Angel, is found dead in his apartment, and Charlie finds himself on the run from the law with Bonz as his only ally. To get clear of the wreckage, the pair must solve a labyrinthine mystery—one that knits together Jake’s fate, Bonz’s foggy past and a missing audiotape. The two also contend with some formidable bad guys, one of whom specializes in hammering nails into his victims’ heads.
Hankins’ sly buddy adventure contrasts two unlikely comrades. Charlie’s well-ordered world crumbles into paranoia and theft, while Bonz works toward forming coherent sentences and practicing better hygiene. The two settle into an entertaining dynamic as their statuses equalize, with Charlie’s squeamish legalism playing off Bonz’s unself-conscious violence and practicality.
Hankins surrounds them with a crackerjack cast of bristling thugs, weaselly lowlifes,and beady-eyed feds, and he ties the story together with pitch-perfect dialogue, mordant humor and action scenes poised exquisitely between menace and chaos. At times the plot’s scheming and counter-scheming gets a bit over-the-top, but readers will likely be having too much fun to notice.
A complex, entertaining thriller.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A BLOOD THING
James Hankins’ chillingly effective “A Blood Thing” (Thomas & Mercer, $24.95, 455 pages) also makes use of New England settings, Vermont in this case.
Reminiscent of Harlan Coben for all the right reasons, Hankins’ latest treats us to classic noir that dredges up the genre staples of extortion and manipulation layered amid hero Andrew Kane’s quest for the light in the form of saving his brother from a murder charge. The descent he must first make deeper into the darkness takes him into a netherworld of ambiguous morality, posing the question of how far would you go to save someone you loved?
Unique in its approach and bracing in its execution, “A Blood Thing” bleeds terrific reading entertainment on every page.