Prominently mentioned in a few places is that Lou Berney's GUTSHOT STRAIGHT reads like early Elmore Leonard. So no pressure Mr. Berney. The only thing riding on whether I like this book is if it compares to who many think is the greatest living Crime Fiction writer of all time.
I get it. The review/blurb is only trying to associate Mr. Berney with Mr. Leonard, so that the reader will be able to make an informed decision; 'I like Elmore Leonard so let me give this guy a try.' But the unfortunate consequence for this reader is that I found it difficult to divorce myself from the constant checklist running in my head. Affable ex-con with rakish looks? Check Not so tough as nails heroine? Check. Loose collection of bad guy thugs who register pretty high on the stupid and cruel meter? Check. Witty back and forth between hero/heroine/thugs? Check.
It was frustrating and distracting and for about the first 80 pages I didn't think GUTSHOT STRAIGHT was going to be anything more than a diverting parrot. The gears were really grinding as we set up the characters and plot. The book needed a swift kick in the pants. Luckily, around the time Mr. Berney introduces that most well worn of narrative plot devices, 100 foreskins, the best thing started to happen. I started to laugh, and continued to do so until the book's conclusion. The interplay between 'Shake' and Gina falls into an easy rhythm. They are both enjoyable characters who are biding their time until the lesser angels of their nature appear to burn the other. From Shake and Gina's perspective it is just damn annoying that each likes the other so much.
Lou Berney writes with a lot of charm. GUTSHOT STRAIGHT is a romp, one with a lot of laughs. If not exactly the most original, one can certainly enjoy a well told comedic crime story.