Ray Cruz is a hard man from the Bronx, and that’s saying something. In the past he made his living putting the hurt on others – gamblers, junkies, other hard men, it didn’t matter. Ray was handy with his fists, with a knife or a bat, or a gun. Whatever the job called for, he wasn’t fussy. He did time too, but that’s in the past. Ray is a father now and thinks all that is in the past. But old habits die hard, they linger like instincts, so when his daughter Elena staggers up to the house having taken a beating, Ray isn’t thinking about the police or justice.
It’s revenge he wants, as this book’s title suggests.
But Elena is just as stubborn as Ray, and refuses to say who is responsible. Furthermore, she won’t explain why she won’t tell him. After taking Elena to the hospital, where all suspicious injuries have to be logged with the police, Elena and Ray are interviewed by Detective Jack Carter. Not even the news that Elena has lost the baby she was carrying can persuade her to open up. Elena stonewalls the detective the same way she stonewalled her father. Similarly, Jack’s attempt to engage Ray’s cooperation falls on deaf ears.
First stop for Ray after the hospital is to her apartment. Not only does Elena have to look after her own daughter Rosalita, but Ray wants to speak to her husband Willie. He has to prepare Willie for what has happened to Elena, but Ray also wants to get the measure of him. Ray and Willie don’t get along; Willie doesn’t like Ray’s past, and Ray doesn’t care for Willie’s superior attitude. Ray thinks Willie is a weak man, and weak men hit their wives.
Having satisfied himself that Willie knows nothing of Elena’s assault, Ray’s next stop is Lenny Acevedo. A face from the past, Lenny is a cokehead and sometime small-fry enforcer who might know who does this kind of work. For a bribe, Lenny agrees to discreetly ask around. But Lenny knows more than he is letting on, and Ray has unknowingly tipped off the enemy that he is carrying out his own investigation.
Meanwhile, the FBI is also investigating. Agent Ramona Esposito interviews Ray and warns him off seeking revenge. Elena, she says, is part of a bigger operation, and Ray’s meddling isn’t welcome. But like so many others, Ramona is underestimating Ray’s determination and his capacity for violence. Not even a home invasion, where two men beat Ray and put a gun to his head, is enough to make him back down.
Novels as violent as Vengeance is Mine are something of a rarity these days, and I’m not surprised this one comes from an independent publisher. The violence is kept on the page. It’s graphic and almost indiscriminate – only Elena’s attack isn’t fully described – and enough I expect to put off mainstream publishers. I found it a little too much at times, and if you don’t enjoy violent stories then you should stay away.
However, if you choose to read this book, you will be rewarded with a compelling thriller, an unorthodox investigation into a mystery with a satisfying solution, and an authentic noir-ish ending in which everyone who is guilty gets there just reward. It’s a hardboiled world and Ray Cruz lives in it.
Flame Tree Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars