Key West Was Never This Dangerous!
I’d never read Mike Dennis so I took a chance on his mystery/thriller SETUP ON FRONT STREET. The first in the Key West Nocturnes series, it’s written in a gripping noir style that’s hard to put down.
I experienced a few problems getting into the first chapter. The mention of the word guayabera four times in a row had me counting its usage—and this type of fault-finding is never a good thing. It means the reader is not focused on what they should be and I just kept wondering why the author didn’t just use “shirt” or another synonym instead of repeating the word so often. There was also an awkward transition that I felt could have been handled in a better way, but I pressed on discovering that Mr. Dennis started hitting his stride in the second chapter. By the fifth, when the main character had a heart-to-heart with BK, the Boy King, I was hooked!
Don Roy Doyle is the protagonist in this yarn. It’s his exploits that help propel this nifty story to its explosive conclusion. The story begins with his release from prison. He’s served time for a jewelry heist that he and some pals committed back in the day. Instead of ratting out his accomplices, he took the fall and now he’s back, looking for his cut of the take.
We follow Donny as he drops in on his old friends. These vignettes fill in the blank spaces and give us excellent character studies of Doyle and his former associates. I should add that the language is something that works in shocking us out of complacency. Don Roy and the other members of this motley crew are not like anyone I’ve ever met. These are not the people that sat around my family’s Thanksgiving table discussing the merits of the acidic balance of cranberries on the palate, but the rough-around-the edges tool helps establish that we’re not in Kansas anymore and that these guys are not politically correct. They’re self-centered, mercenary, and out for what they can get. Yes, sometimes mutually beneficial alliances are formed, and once in a blue moon, a friendship is forged, but for the most part it’s just a matter of taking whatever they can grab.
It doesn’t take long for Don Roy’s confrontation with a bar owner to rattle some cages. It seems that his demanding to be paid his fair share opens up a whole can of worms. It even threatens his relationship with his old flame Norma. Norma is a wonderful character in her own right, and her presence lends so much to explaining what makes Don Roy tick. All I’ll say about their reunion is that chapter seven is beautifully written and downright poignant. In it, I believe Mr. Dennis has perfectly captured the disenfranchised. I mean, what do people who do not think of themselves as fitting into society do with themselves? How do they eke out a living? Why they become outlaws, working outside the structure that does not accept them, making up their own set of rules as they go. This is what happens to Doyle, but in viewing him from the perspective given in chapter seven, Don Roy is injected with humanity and we begin to feel real sympathy for him. It didn’t seem possible in the beginning, but Norma is the vehicle that allows us to view Doyle’s squishy center.
Of course, the unthinkable happens and this passion that he feels for her is tested in every possible way, including by what she did while he was in prison. It ain’t pretty, but there was a real truth in the honesty of the writing. I found it compelling, and from there, it’s foot-off-brake time for all the rest of the way.
Taut and complex, this is very well-constructed and enjoyable. Doyle is the maestro that orchestrates a scheme on the fly that will deflect a testy ex-mayor, the Russian mob and a desperate housewife. The plot thickens and all the disparate pieces come together. Just why was Doyle setup and whose true colors will eventually show? Further, who’s behind it all and will Doyle ever get his freakin’ money? Only getting street cred for time served hardly seems fair, but, man, do we find out!
While the conclusion of the mystery was extremely satisfying, the ending was lacking something. I wanted something more in that final chapter. It’s my only real quibble and in writing this review, I’m shifting back and forth between giving it either four or five stars. However, since this is a blog, I can give it any dang number I want! Therefore, I’m giving it four and a half instead of five.
I highly recommend Mike Dennis and SETUP ON FRONT STREET for those that like hard-boiled tough guys with hearts of gold. Of course, in reading a novel this good, a high benchmark has been set. It means that the next story I choose has a big guayabera to fill.
and a half!!!!