The Bottom Line: A remarkable superhero origin story that manages to inject plenty of new life into the genre.
Reese Roberts, a vigilante crime fighter known as the Roach, has been on a half-decade bender in the years since a rookie cop put a bullet in his spine. Now confined to a wheelchair and deeply depressed, the novel opens as Reese rolls to the edge of the pier in Iron City. His suicide is interrupted by the cry of a kid being assaulted by bullies. Reese intervenes, and the pathetic scuffle leaves both him and the kid beaten.
Back home, he’s surprised to find Laura Garrity, the last person he saved before forced retirement, cooking him a meal. Laura and her daughter, who calls him Uncle Reese, are all Reese has to hang on to. Laura also happens to be the mayor’s daughter, and that attracts the attention of a nosy reporter who is hell bent on publishing dirt that could incriminate the mayor, Reese and the city sanitation department.
Soon a copycat crime fighter emerges who wears the Roach‘s old uniform. It’s clear to Reese that the imposter doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that could lead to a lot of good people getting killed. He’s right, of course, and that realization is all the inspiration he needs to stage a comeback.
In The Roach, author Rhett C. Bruno is clearly dabbling with a familiar formula, as the notion of a depressed crimefighter, a notorious copycat and even the gritty feel of Iron City are all reminiscent of the sagas of a certain caped crusader. With that said, Bruno’s twist on the genre — a story of a disabled vigilante who wants nothing more than to have purpose and make the world a safer place — is precisely what we need right now.
The Roach isn’t exactly an origin story per se. It’s more of a rebirth, with a significant backstory that focuses on the vigilante’s glory days. To cap off the timeless feel, Bruno has set Iron City as a 1980s town where people still read newspapers and work on Macintoshes. It’s a world that has yet to be transformed by 5G or the Internet, and yet still feels remarkably like our own.
Sparked by Bruno’s precise prose, sparkling dialogue and the chemistry between Reese and Laura, The Roach is one of the year’s best thrillers.