Slide, by Ken Bruen & Jason Starr

The Ken Bruen and Jason Starr collaboration Bust was at once bizarre and vulgar, but it was a fun read and turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected it to be. That was mostly due to its surprisingly effective depiction of the two principal characters, a corrupt and sleazy computer executive named Max Fisher and the wildly impulsive barfly Angela Petrakos. Those two almost completely lacked any sign that they would survive to the end of a violent noir novel, but they hung around like feuding cockroaches, leaving a largely unintended trail of mayhem behind them. It was enough for me to pick out the 2007 sequel, Slide, also published by Hard Case Crime.


Richard B. Farrell cover for Hard Case Crime.

Slide refers to a serial killer stalking the streets of Dublin, who kidnaps and then murders victims as both a form of sexual release and a way to build his personal brand:

The name, trademark, signature if you like — that’s right, he had a signature — came from what he’d whisper to his victim before administering his coup de grace.

“Know what, partner? …I’m gonna let it slide.”

Ah, that sheen of hope, that desperate last dangling moment of reprieve. It got him hot every time.

Slide does not get smarter than that, but in this book he fits right in. Nobody, with the exception of the police, appears capable of abstract thought in Slide: it is evident, from the beginning, that every scheme or plan that anybody comes up with will end in complete failure.

One example of this is Angela, running out of cash and needing a place to stay, hooks up with Slide and moves into his den of horrors. This is the second Irish serial killer in two books for Angela, and she puts up with his violence and threats in hopes of building a nest egg out of his victim’s wallets. This lasts until he brutally robs someone connected to the IRA, forcing the pair to flee to the United States.

Meanwhile, Max starts his story in a run-down Alabama hotel room, recovering his senses after a lengthy drinking binge. His life as a businessman has been ruined by the events of Bust, and his most coherent thoughts are bitter, consuming regrets about the moment he met Angela. Fortunately, the hotel clerk, a slow-thinking local named Kyle, is connected to the drug trade. Max sees an opportunity to make a material comeback, and before long, he is an upstart crack dealer stationed in a Manhattan penthouse.

Aside from some highly improbable business acumen and the loyalty of Kyle, it is difficult to see how Max would last very long in the drug trafficking trade. He has Kyle, a full-time sushi chef and his favorite stripper Felicia living with him, forcing them to refer to him as M.A.X. and listen to his rap albums. Aided by frequent hits from the crack pipe, Max fantasizes about completing his climb to the top of society:

Who knew, maybe one of these days the Journal would ask Max to do a regular column for them and if Max was in a philanthropic mood, had some free time on his hands, felt the need to give back, maybe he’d accept. He’d call the column, what else, The M.A.X. Have guys in all the happening bars going, “I was reading in The M.A.X….” or “The M.A.X. says…” Yeah, he could see it. The double hit of coke he’d had with his croissant and skim milk latte helped the visualization. And hey, it could happen. But the bottom line was Max was too busy. The guy who came up with multitasking, shit, that guy had The M.A.X. in mind.

There are pages and pages of this. We also spend time inside the minds of Felicia and the cop who is paying her for information. The cop is a rather stock character but the passages describing his thoughts are a welcome breather from the ravings coming from all other corners.

The two threads following Angela and Max meet only at the end, and of course secondary characters meet a brutal fate. I got the impression that one author was responsible for the Max/Kyle/Felicia story and the other wrote the Angela/Slide story, pretty much independently from each other. Slide reads like a contest for deciding who could come up with the most absurdly “bad but entertaining” half, with no real investment in a logical conclusion. For example, here is Max attempting to convince Kyle not to take his Bible when they meet with Colombian suppliers:

Max sighed, decent help was, like, freaking impossible to find, he tried to put some fatherly patience in his tone, and like Pa Walton on crystal meth, said, “Son, what you read in your heart is the only line you ever need to remember.” Max had lost his train of thought halfway through the sentence and in frustration, “We’re gonna be dealing with some heavy dudes here, son. They see that book, they’re gonna think you got a concealed gun in there.”

Kyle said, “The Lord is my weapon.”

Max, sick of the whole conversation, went, “The Lord better be packing, then.”

If was this passage that reminded me of a long-ago billboard discouraging teenage smoking:


Environmental Resource Council.

Perhaps Bruen and Starr had the same intent, for potential readers with the urge to follow the path of drug dealing and violent crime. As for readability, it does rate well, as long as you’re in the mood for this kind of content (it does go further than Bust). I finished it quickly, but that had a lot to do with the fact that I took a copy into the oil-change shop. 4/10.


About pete

former academic scientist and presently a software engineer. Also, a science fiction and crime fiction book-blogger.
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3 Responses to Slide, by Ken Bruen & Jason Starr

  1. fredfitch says:

    It would make sense that each co-author would take the lead in the book set in his own city.

    I keep meaning to get to Elmore Leonard, and this sounds along his general wavelength, based on my early impressions. Only there’s no good guys. Not even bad good guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pete says:

      I’ve read only one Leonard book, “City Primeval,” which didn’t hook me into reading more of his – that was several years ago. Then again, Westlake’s “The Ax” didn’t catch my fancy either, but that was also when I was a single graduate student (and therefore, a long, long time ago). For whatever reason, I’m far more appreciative of crime fiction these days, and that means at some point I’ll also be giving Elmore Leonard another go. Pretty much any crime author who has made it into the Library of America is on my list.


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