Rum Runner by J. A. Konrath is the first of a three-novel collection. I downloaded the collection from the author’s website at a fantastic price. I won’t mention the price because it may no longer be available. Also, it is fun to browse through Konrath work; it is as close as you can come to visiting a used bookstore. The variety of genre in which Konrath writes is impressive. And then there is his collaborative work, also impressive. I will confine my comments in this post to the first novel; others will follow.
Konrath is all about great characters. Yes, there is a plot, but a reader might have to consider what the plot is while being entertained by character description and actions. This novel is about revenge. Jack put Terrence Wycleaf Johnson, known on the street as T-Nail, in jail. Terrence escaped after twenty years. Terrence is on a mission and the mission’s name is a former undercover cop named Jack, (Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels). That is the plot in its entirety. Now we go on to the fun stuff which is all about characters.
Even the names of characters are fun. How can any part-time alcoholic not love a cop named Jack Daniels? The story of how Terrence became T-Nail is something not found in mainstream storytelling. T-Nail is one dimensional as far as character development; he has only one thought expressed at different levels of anger. Intent on taking back the leadership of his gang after an extended prison stay, T-Nail has a rival, Del Ray, an up-to-date younger man who might be said to have a hair fixation. T-Nail will rely on Del Ray to operationally pursue a course of revenge against Jack, but T-Nail will never fully trust Del Ray. The two form an interesting character bundle, a buy one get one free deal.
There is an offbeat romance story between Jack and Phineas (Phin). They fell in love when Jack was early in her cop career even though she knew Phin was a person who thought and operated outside the box, a person who could be called a criminal based on drug use alone. Jack and Phin were in love, they had a daughter, life was good and progressed on a predictable path. That was a problem; Jack didn’t do predictable. Their story is a comfortable background story as the action unfolds. When the action is full blown, this part of the story becomes exaggerated as there are hugs and kisses among the flamethrowers. But that is what provides a lot of the humor.
For me, this novel is all about the humor. Action elements support the humor. Sergeants Herb Benedict and Harry McGlade, both partners with Jack in her active duty cop days, provide great humor through dialogue. Harry turns every situation into an opportunity to talk about kinky sex. Herb has a different concentration; it is all about food. It probably would not make Jack feel good to know that these two would join to form their rescue team. Rescue attempts might stop for cheese blintzes. Harry would always pay attention to his parrot first, but their intentions to help Jack and Phin were pure. First, they had to find Jack and Phin. They had to find the pair on time. They had to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds while, for Harry at least, maintaining faith in the parrot.
This is fun and for the humor alone I give this five Amazon stars. There are parts of the story that some readers would consider dark so I would not recommend the novel for everyone. But my fifteen-year-old son is a Konrath fan and I have no problem with that. Any possible offensive sex language appears mostly through dialogues from Harry and the situations are so absurdly funny that I found them non-offensive. As did my daughters (older than my son by a decade).
I look forward to my next Konrath novel, but I like to space my Konrath reads so the humor remains fresh. Some of the most boring collections I have read have titles like “250 of the World’s Best Jokes.” Konrath deserves to be read and reread when a reader wants a jolt out of the norm. This parallels the situation between Jack and Phin but their escape from the norm was at an extreme level that I don’t want to experience.