Tim Kearney is a loser. Always has been, and a three-time loser at that. When we meet him, he’s just screwed up big time, killing a biker with a sharpened number plate within the prison walls.
Enter DEA agent Tad Gruzsa. He’s a happy bunny. Now Kearney is up the creek and has burned his paddles, he won’t be able to resist the deal that’s about to be put on the table.
For once in his life, Kearney is given a lucky break. Sure, it’s a poison chalice of sorts, but when you’re desperate you’ll take anything. His good fortune is that he’s the spitting image of the legendary Bobby Z. Z, surf-bum turned international dope dealer, is the polar opposite to Kearney. He floats on the natural rhythms of life and everything he touches blossoms and grows. Problem is, he’s dead and Gruzsa needs him for leverage in a hostage deal with Mexican cartel boss, gentleman scumbag Huertero.
Kearney can’t refuse his new offer. He trains up on the details of Z until he knows them inside out. And then comes the hostage exchange. Unsurprisingly, it goes pear-shaped. Kearney has a new aura about him since he’s become Z. He winds up in a safe house in the desert waiting for Heurtero to arrive, then finds out Huertero’s main goal in life is to kill Z with his own hands. Kearney/Z also discovers he has a son, a sad and lonely boy at the mercy of murderers and sex-mad drug lords. There’s a woman, too, an ex-lover who has a strong desire to rekindle a relationship.
Though life is on the up, Kearney/Z knows his only change is to get the hell out of Dodge. Fortunately his Gulf War experience and military training means he has the ability escape, so he does. Along the way, he decides to take along the young boy, Z’s son. They go on the run, hiding in the desert and having to cope with the chasing armies of Hell’s Angels, DEA agents and Huertero’s personal army.
What follows is one hell of an adventure. The twists and turns are complicated, but always remain believable due to the excellent plotting and attention to detail. The action scenes are gripping and the writing always immediate as it’s written in the present tense. The characters are sublime and each and every one of them has strong motivations as well as a barrel load of flaws. When it’s time for battle, the scenes are vibrant and heart-pounding. When it’s tense, it’s nail-biting. When it’s sexy, it’s hot. When you need to root for anyone, you’re feeling every moment of their pleasure and pain. When it’s brutal, you may have to look away. When it’s funny, it’s laugh out loud.
If there’s a flaw, to my mind it’s this. The point at which he takes the boy with him into the desert didn’t ring true for me. That would be okay, but there were reminders of this during their interactions and efforts to stay alive. Kearney resorts to games to keep his new son switched on, but they felt a little sentimental and contrived. The boy’s presence is an important part of the plot and it’s a jigsaw piece that couldn’t be removed without major change, so I understood its importance. I guess I also felt a little manipulated by this particular turn of events (I know we’re always been manipulated by authors, it’s part of the job description, but I much prefer it when I don’t notice it).
This gripe aside, it’s a really strong and entertaining read that will make any long journey pass in the blink of an eye. It may not have the scope and complexity of Mr Winslow’s more recent work, and there’s a less of the poetic cadence, but it carries a similar intensity and flow that will carry you along from start to finish.
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF BOBBY Z (US)