DANGEROUS WOMEN & DESPERATE MEN (2011)
by Rick Mofina
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
Formerly a crime reporter, thriller writer Rick Mofina drew on his experiences and observations in that capacity to create the four tales that Dangerous Women & Desperate Men comprises.
In "Blood Red Rings," Frank Harper, a cop on the verge of early retirement, thinks back over his life while patrolling the streets of the city, realizing not for the first time how dysfunctional his family has become. When he responds to a shooting where a fellow officer is already in pursuit of the perpetrator, he gets the greatest shock of his life, one from which he'll likely never recover.
She's only 26, but Jessie Scout has already endured more than a lifetime's worth of hardship and pain. Half German, half Native American, she works as an armored car driver in Las Vegas and, along with Gil Perez, has to daily put up with their white supremacist crew chief, Elmer Gask. When she and the vehicle she was driving disappear, Gask, Perez, and the investigating officers suspect a heist and wonder if Jessie is alive or dead. Resonant with overtones that lift it beyond the run-of-the-mill crime tale, "Lightning Rider" won the Crime Writers of Canada's 2006 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story.
Ike Decker is a former New York cop now living and working in California as a Special Loss Recovery Agent for an armored car company. In "Three Bullets to Queensland," the weakest story in the collection because Decker really doesn't have any obstacles to overcome, his quarry is Paco Sanchez, who came away from a heist with one-point-two million dollars in cash.
A finalist for the 2008 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story, "As Long As We Both Shall Live" tells the story of Elizabeth and Spencer Dalton. Spencer went fishing on his 18-foot boat one day and never returned. After an extensive investigation that has involved several agencies, Spencer has been declared missing and presumed dead. The story is related in the form of an official court transcript, as State Attorney's office prosecutor Paul Upshaw questions Elizabeth Dalton about her life with her husband and events that preceded and followed his disappearance. The narrative device is, in and of itself, dry and impersonal, but Mofina makes it effectively convey the tones and emotions of the people whose voices are transcribed. Readers are likely to remember what actually happened to Spencer Dalton long after they finish the story.
The rest of the book consists of sample excerpts from several of Rick Mofina's novels, and essays on how those novels evolved.
The stories in Dangerous Women & Desperate Men are, to their credit, as much--and sometimes more--about character as they are about crimes. Mofina's prose style is crisp and pared to essentials, resulting in stories that are good quick reads which offer memorable moments. But the rapid-fire, often breathless nature of that prose style sometimes leads to ungrammatical constructions--e.g., "Decker's nose was crooked from being broken three times, a jagged scar paralleled his jaw line, he was missing his right ear, a long story but Decker used his thumbs to gouge out the eyes of the man who took his ear, and he possessed a shark-toothed mouth that, when he grinned as he was doing now, his eyes widened with ferocity, telegraphing a clear message...."
And that brings us to my biggest criticism of this book. It's in dire need of a proofreader. It teems with punctuation errors: punctuation marks are either misplaced or, most frequently, altogether missing. As mentioned above, there are occasional grammatical lapses an editor should have caught, and even a few spelling mistakes--e.g., "ally" for "alley." Unfortunately, this kind of slovenliness has become too common in publishing today, even among the major houses.
That criticism notwithstanding, the stories in Dangerous Women & Desperate Men are worth the attention of crime fiction fans. The book is available in Kindle and Smashwords editions.
Barry Ergang ©2011
Formerly the Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, winner of the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2007 Derringer Award in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. For links to material available online, and fiction available for e-readers, see Barry’s webpages. Remember, too, that he has books from his personal collection for sale at http://barryergangbooksforsale.yolasite.com/ He'll contribute 20% of the purchase price of the books to our fund, so please have a look at his lists, which have recently been added to in several categories.