Ever had one of those days?
Your co-workers are at each others’ throats, debt is piling up, you can’t 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 that’s a firecracker.
Published by William Morrow hitting bookstores Tuesday, the novel is Berney’s second to center around Shake. Although it is a sequel to 2010’s 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. He’s 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. Shake’s 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 they’ve brought new friends.
Worst of all, there’s hummus everywhere. Can’t a guy catch a break?
The story hits the ground running, keeps running, and doesn’t 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 River’s 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 there’s just no better feeling for a writer.”
Another big plus is Berney’s gift for evoking a sense of place. The tropical coasts of Belize and traffic-choked streets of Cairo lend an air of authenticity. That’s perhaps not surprising, given that the author visited both places prior to writing Whiplash.
For Berney, it’s 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 isn’t high drama; it’s fun, clever and well-written fiction with protagonists you can really root for.
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