Written by Wayne Epperson — The intrepid, no-nonsense Atlanta bounty hunter Frank Knott rides again. To say that the ex-marine sees things in black and white is to understate Knott’s view of the world. He probably sees black and white as far too indeterminate and fuzzy. Suffice it to say that pastel shades of motive and morality are conspicuous by their absence in Epic Justice.
Knott has been sent by his boss to the West Texas town of El Paso, immortalised in the iconic Marty Robbins hit of 1960. Sadly, Rose’s Cantina is no longer there, and neither is the Mexican maiden so beloved in the song. Instead, we have the shadowy El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) attached to military base Fort Bliss. Someone in EPIC has been leaking information to America’s enemies, and Knott has been planted as a junior employee, but with a brief to unmask the traitor.
As one EPIC section leader is murdered – with blackmail and double dealing going on in the background – another operative seems to be trading weapons and parts from the base with extremely dubious customers. When this second operative is killed, Knott gets deeper and deeper embedded within the organisation, and as he does so his troubles mount. We are introduced, in an apparently random way, to Mike Adams, a disfigured and embittered El Paso criminal and, separately, to Krasnov, a disillusioned ex-KGB officer. Full marks to Epperson for integrating the two characters into the subsequent action. The structure of the story is a little unconventional at this point, but ultimately it works. The author also does well to establish the scenery in this book, and there is a kind of grim poetry in how he describes the poverty stricken, brutal and amoral world either side of the Rio Grande.
One factor with this book is that it requires you to be a dog-lover to fully appreciate it. If you’re not a fan of smelly, slavering and tail-wagging canines in either life or literature, then you may struggle. Knott has an ever-present canine partner, a Doberman called Blackjack. The dog was introduced in the previous Frank Knott story, Chasing Bad Guys, but was a no more than a pleasant diversion. Here, Blackjack is too upfront in the story, not because he is particularly integral to the plot, but because Knott spends a lot of his time worrying about the dog and making sure he gets his exercise and proper meals. It has to be said that in one of my favourite crime fiction series, the Spenser novels by Robert B Parker, the repeated references to Susan’s beloved dog Pearl irritated the hell out of me.
However, Knott remains an engagingly blunt character, and Epperson has developed greatly as a writer of dialogue. Knott is no wisecracking Philip Marlowe, but he is convincing and perceptive as he talks to the reader about the people around him. I was not entirely convinced that the high-powered suits from the FBI and the State Department who become embroiled in the action would have been quite so open and candid with Knott, particularly while they were under the impression that he was just a lowly data clerk. But go along with the idea, and tune into Epperson’s straightforward but effective prose, and you are guaranteed some high speed action and a storytelling style that takes no prisoners.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars