Thursday, September 6, 2018

Thin: "Tommy Red" by Charlie Stella

Thin: Tommy Red by Charlie Stella, 2016, 9781933586960.

I used to regularly check in to Stella's online commentary on his blog. His posts were mostly family talk, Buffalo Bills desperation, power lifting, and politics. I severely cut back on blog reading a few years ago because it was using way too much time. Plus, all Stella's talk reminded me that he did not have a new novel coming out soon. That was depressing. After all Stella had regular work and family life to keep him busy - he can't be cranking out new books every six months. Hell, half of the writers I follow only do part-time novelizing.

Stella has several characters who make recurring appearances in his novels but Tommy "Red" Dalton is a new one to me. Tommy works as a independent murderer who gets most of his work through longtime friend Sal. Sal has the mob connections and he brokers the work for Tommy.

Right off the bat we learn Tommy has a few issues. He is in Atlantic City getting ready to kill a local drug guy when Tommy runs into his college aged daughter he has not seen in six months. Tommy married young and fast to a stripper and the marriage fell apart after Tommy did a couple prison stints. There is no doubt Tommy cares and loves for his children but he has mostly been absent and quarreling with his ex-wife.

After spending part of the next day with his daughter Tommy checks out of his hotel, gets his van, uses a rifle to shoot a drug dealer in the head, and heads home. While driving on the interstate Tommy converses with another driver using his horn and his middle finger. Tommy follows the other driver to a rest area and kicks the guy in the crotch. Seeing a watchful crowd Tommy gets back in his car and leaves before, presumably, beating the guy bloody.

More things happen as we meet a retired NYPD cop who hates his wife. A FBI Special Agent In Charge approaching retirement and living in burnout. Several members of a small NYC mobster family that has already been decimated by prosecutions and turncoats. Tommy's ex-wife and daughter. Sal the broker.

Driving the story is the murder of a witness living under U.S. Marshall protection in New Hampshire. During a visit to the island the guy works on the retired cop recognizes the guy and figures to tell the mob and make a bundle of cash.

The mob is a shell of it's once powerful self. Even the made guys don't keep their mouths shut and the prosecutors cut deals left and right. Both the mob and the FBI dislike this situation. The mob because they cannot trust anyone and the FBI because murderers get away with a five year sentence and a new life in Arkansas.

Tommy ends up with the contract and the mob starts killing off anyone connected with the hit. Things happen as the FBI figures out the mob outfit and hitters responsible. Tommy gets angry and vengeful. Sal gets shot. Tommy worries for his family's safety. The mobsters worry about themselves and willingly kill longtime friends and colleagues.

Tommy thinks of murder as work. Work is work and Tommy is just doing a job, those people would have been murdered whether Tommy did the job or not so he may as well do the job and take the cash.

Stella has written before how Charles V Higgins's The Friends of Eddie Coyle was a revelation to Stella.  Not because Higgins was a word magician but because he wrote about real people who happen to do nasty work. Higgins was a prosecutor who listened to hours of crooks sitting around talking. Stella hung around with crooks and did that same talking.

Tommy is a family and work dramedy as much as thrillers or crime novels because Stella puts in daily humor and laughter everyone lives. The story is not all doom, gloom and kaboom.

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