Book Review: Dead Money Run, a Crime Thriller by J. Frank James

The Bottom Line: A hard-boiled crime caper that grabs from the get-go and burns at a feverish pace until the very last page.

The very best crime novelists make even the scenes set in broad daylight seem like it’s ten minutes ‘til midnight. In Dead Money Run, J. Frank James makes all the right choices, from his stripped-down prose to the deliciously drawn criminals, cops and private investigators he populates his world with.

On the day Lou Malloy is to be released from prison, the warden calls him for a private meeting. “Ten percent of fifteen million is a lot of money,” the warden tells him. He’s probing Lou for the wherabouts of the $15M that was stolen from a casino 15 years earlier. Lou, however, doesn’t bite. He’s got big plans, which include finding the person who killed his sister while he was in the joint.

Enter Hilary Kelly, a 20-something beauty who gives Lou a motorcycle ride from the bus station. She claims to be a student, but Lou is far too wise to fall for it. After crashing in Hilary’s trailer, Lou soon finds her .38 Smith and Wesson and discovers she’s a private investigator who knows something about his sister.

Hilary a great character, and loaded with memorable lines: “Lou, sometimes you can be the nicest killer I have ever known.” Alas, she and Lou were made for each other – he likes to think of himself as a “compassionate killer.”

Fans of James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard are going to love James’ ingenious capers, devious characters and wry humor. The entire book goes down like a strong yet smooth shot of bourbon.

Will Lou reclaim his money, or will he be lured into one last big score? And who killed his sister, anyhow? To James’ credit, the answers will surprise you. This is one crime novel well-worth finishing.

Bella Wright

Bella Wright blogs about books, film and media.

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