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Saw Red

Bob Truluck

Dennis McMillan Publications

US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-939767-45-7

Publication Date: August 27, 2003

220 Pages; $30

Date Reviewed: September 29, 2003

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2003




Duncan Sloan is back, wisecracks, similes and guns ablaze, in Bob Truluck's second series novel 'Saw Red'. Those fearful of the 'sophomore jinx' that often plagues second novels will have to look elsewhere. Truluck and Sloan are both in top-rate form in this pulpy piece of hardboiled fare.

Truluck introduced Duncan Sloan, wild-child P.I. in Orlando, Florida, in 'Street Level' in 2000, and picked up a couple of best first mystery awards for his efforts. In 'Saw Red' Sloan again faces danger, saves a damsel in distress, thwarts criminals both smart and ever-so-stupid, and slings more wisecracks than bullets -- although he slings a lot of those too -- all to put things right. Sloan is hired by a high-class hooker Terry Sebring to recover her stolen Jaguar. More importantly he's to find the Palm Pilot within, containing her well-heeled client list. It seems whoever swiped the Jag is now shaking down the johns. Knowing full well that there's more to the story than a missing car and some putout clients, but tempted by both the beauty of the damsel in distress -- and the load of cash she dumps on his table -- Sloan signs on. And when Sloan signs on, he never, ever, signs off until the full story is told and all the broken pieces re-glued.

Sloan recovers the car in all of a few hours. But it takes far longer to figure out why the johns are dying, who's next, who's killing them and how to fix it. Along the way, he weaves in and out of high-class legal offices, low-class chop shops, digs up a lot of well-trod dirt and stays a step or two away from both the cops and the killers. Oh, and he meets another damsel, this one an un-distressed exotically beautiful rent-a-cop for a Florida church-cum-theme park unfortunately named Sarah Lee. Sarah has as many guns as Sloan, shoots them equally well and equally often. She covers Sloan's skinny butt with aplomb though she's far more fashionably clad. And Sloan calls her 'cupcake'! She's also squeamish about Sloan's iconoclastic ethics. But she's getting over it.

Truluck's story, structure and style are wholly rooted in the hardboiled genre of Chandler and Hammett, and offer an updated tribute to the pulps of the early 1900's with their accessible-to-the-masses, pop-culture action stories. Slang and similes abound in this witty, darkly sarcastic narrative; characters are fleshed out in spare, streetwise language; the writing is energetically crisp. And the pacing is fabulously frenetic. This book should come with seat belts.

Duncan Sloan is as hardboiled as they get - a wisecracking loner with in-your-face attitude, tenacious as a bulldog, with a purely personal sense of justice and insatiable appetite for danger. Not one to waste time on contemplation, Sloan's a true action hero, careening from one conflagration to the next at speeds well in excess of any limits. But, he's developing a touch of charm; he's kind to children and abused women and even provides a bowl of water to a caged pit bull. These few acts of kindness soften and enrich Sloan, showing him to be human and engaging, but leave his testosterone intact.

'Saw Red' is fast-food fiction, flavorful and fat free. Truluck cooks up a sizzling stew of violence, sex and fast-paced action that's tangy, tasty, and satisfying. And he cooks it up with gas. Entertainment - absolutely; enlightenment - optional.

Dennis McMillan has a well-deserved reputation for producing quality books, and 'Saw Red' is true to form. With heavy cloth covers, embossed end papers front and back and cover art by Michael Kellner showing a scantily clad redhead looking into a mirror, reversed on the back, it's a beautifully crafted book. For just a couple or three dollars more, I'd pass on the latte and pop for the book.