Monday, May 11, 2015

RUMRUNNERS :: Eric Beetner

I call it "The trouble with Beetner." The trouble with Eric Beetner is he writes full-throttle. There is no sudden exhale, no rest stop where one can pull over and get a refreshment, take a nap, maybe get some work done. Sure, there are chapter breaks, but they do you no good. Nope, just gotta read, laughing and grimacing in equal measure 'til he's written his piece.

And his piece here is a fun one, full of fast car chases, shoot outs, fist fights, power tools, broken glass, and blood. Rumrunners is billed as "Smokey and the Bandit meets Justified and Fargo." I'd throw in Dukes of Hazzard and Scarface as well. And I really could just stop right there and you'd be crazy not to read it, but I'll fill in a few more blanks to give you that extra push.

The Stanleys are a big crime family fish in a tiny pond - southeast Iowa - and the McGraw men have been working for them for generations as transporters. Of what, they never ask, it's against their code and better not to know, but back in the day it was mostly liquor and marijuana. Calvin McGraw is now 86 and retired, living in Nebraska, somewhat grumpily.

Calvin's son Webb is still taking Stanley jobs, even though he's in his sixties and times have changed:

The Midwest was the birthplace of trucker's speed and now the whole damn country was off the high falutin' booger sugar of the cities and deep into the hick high of crystal meth. That and corn, Iowa had it all.

When Webb disappears in the middle of a job and $12 million of Stanley money goes missing with him, a Stanley makes a visit to the nearest McGraw, Webb's son Tucker, to advise Tucker he now owns the McGraw debt and owes the Stanleys that cool twelve million.

The problem is, the McGraw line of outlaws (not criminals, thank you very much) pretty much stalled when it got to Tucker, who turned his back on the family business. He's a divorced insurance salesman, living apart from his 16-year-old son Milo and getting by on frozen pizza. "Like father, like son, unlike grandson."

Knowing he needs help and worried about his father, Tucker calls granddad Calvin, who makes it to Iowa from Omaha in record time, ready to do battle. They meet with Hugh Stanley, head of the Stanley crime family, and agree to work off the debt if Hugh will allow them to talk to the two men who handed the missing load off to Webb.

Of course, Tucker and Calvin run into all kinds of no-goods and miscreants as they do their bidding for the Stanleys and try to find out what happened to Webb, who would never abscond with a load. Things get complicated when Milo keeps running away from his mother to be with Tucker, and each job makes it more and more questionable that the Stanleys are on the same side as the McGraws. As the three generations of McGraw try and figure out what happened to the fourth, Tucker is going to find out if he has a "McGraw outlaw" inside before the dust settles.

Beetner's writing is simply geared to read. He describes things perfectly, never too wordy but with enough pizazz to get the picture across and never interrupt the flow of the narrative. Which is, in and of itself, a bit schizophrenic (in a very good way). One minute we're tooling along with Calvin and Tucker, riding in spiffy cars, doing outlaw things just like two good ol' boys would do. Hello, Dukes of Hazzard. But then...

Then that tone of outlaw fun and games gets tossed aside like an empty Pabst can and things suddenly and repeatedly take skidding turns into Fargo/Scarface territory and someone's throwing chainsaws around or chewing on broken glass. I was laughing one minute and cringing the next, and I loved every psychotic minute of it.

While Beetner may give his readers a break from the Fargo-style violence, the pace of the story never lets up until the final satisfying conclusion. Rumrunners is high-octane fun.

STREET SENSE:  This book is tailor-made for those of you who like fast action and snappy dialogue and think the party hasn't started until a little blood is spilled. Eric never fails to entertain, you'll definitely want to call "Shotgun!" for this ride.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Calvin opened the barn doors. Tucker waited for the shotgun to erupt. There was only silence. Silence and a bright orange 1970 Plymouth Superbird, a car most notable for the absolutely ridiculous three-foot-high spoiler on the back. A genuine stock car, made street legal and sold to hicks, rednecks and outlaws for a few short years before even GM realized how silly it was. To Calvin, she was a centerfold beckoning him forward with a smoldering look and whispering, "Turn-ons: guys who drive fast, white hair, senior discounts and arthritis." It was automotive Viagra.

COVER NERD SAYS: I'm a sucker for 70s television, and this cover evokes those exact feelings for me. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it and couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. It's clean and precise while still getting across the message about what's waiting in store when you open it and dig in. This is a cover I could see hanging on my wall as a poster. 280 Steps did a great job on this one.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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