Written by Rick Gavin — Following on from his first novel, Ranchero, Rick Gavin’s Beluga features former detective Nick Reid and his quiet-but-tough partner Desmond. The duo have decided to invest a little of their ill-gotten gains in a scheme to buy a load of Michelin tyres that are hotter than Deep South asphalt in summertime, and unload them for a profit. The problem is, the person in charge of procuring the tyres is Desmond’s former brother in law Larry, now officially Beluga S LaMonte, who’s right out of prison.
The only thing of any consequence that Larry did in prison was legally change his name to Beluga, and that pretty much sets the tone of Larry’s character. The heist of the tyres by man-child Larry and his ‘friend’ Skeeter doesn’t go without a hitch, and soon the gang discovers that the stolen goods are connected to a vicious family of cons and psychopaths who won’t hesitate to put Larry and Skeeter down, permanently, and are also happy to take Nick and Desmond with them.
Beluga is told in Nick’s wry, matter of fact voice and it’s his observations about the people around him that make this book stand out. Nick and Desmond’s cool-as-cucumber demeanors temper this story of rednecks running amok and the sarcastic narrative highlights some really nasty scenarios. Nick has to fight his way out of more than a few situations and does so while maintaining a cool head and an eye for detail. It saves his ass more than once. What Nick didn’t count on is the upper crust plantation owner with his fingers in all manner of unlawful pies, and his schoolgirl ninja assassin with a penchant for torture. Pleated skirt, white shirt, patent leather maryjanes, and a whole lot of mean – she adds a whole new dimension to creepy. Nick’s elderly landlord Pearl is the embodiment of southern hospitality, and although she can’t cook worth a lick and has a habit of talking your ear off, she adds quite a bit of charm to the hot mess of homicidal creeps that populate Beluga.
The fight scenes are fast and furious, and the hot, sticky southern setting is a perfect backdrop for this clever, sometimes laugh-out-loud-funny Delta noir. While the action just keeps coming, and Nick is tested time and time again, he does give us a hint of possible romance to come in the form of whipsmart cop Tula Raintree. She’s a single mom who doesn’t suffer fools or take crap from anyone, least of all Nick, and this is what makes the two of them so much fun.
The style of Beluga reminds me quite a lot of JA Konrath’s Jack Daniels series, with a dash of Stephanie Plum on steroids, but it’s a world all its own. The ability to take some pretty horrifying situations, and people, and make you laugh at the complete and utter absurdity of it all is not an easy thing to pull off, but Rick Gavin does it, and does it well. This is a series not to be missed!
Available in hardback from 30 October in the UK and the US.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars
US readers can pre-order here.