Crissa Stone, the career criminal introduced last year in COLD SHOT TO THE HEART, is back in Wallace Stroby’s latest novel, KINGS OF MIDNIGHT. Not much has changed for her … and that is pretty much the main problem with this new work: Not much has changed.
Still desperate for enough money to assure her lover’s parole from a Texas prison, Crissa leads a two-man team on what should be a quick and easy heist. It all goes wrong afterward, however, when her partners argue about their take. Crissa ends up on the run and is further frustrated when she loses a big chunk of her stolen cash to a crooked money launderer.
Then an aging mobster friend of hers introduces her to Benny Roth, a former mobster straight for years after serving as a government informer and living under the Witness Protection Program. Then Benny is approached by an elderly mobster enforcer who is convinced he knows where a now-dead mob boss hid a huge amount of cash from a major robbery that made headlines years ago.
Benny swears he knows nothing about the hidden cash, but admits to Crissa that he actually has a good idea where it might be, and is willing to split it with her in exchange for her help. The parole deadline for Crissa’s lover is near, so she grudgingly agrees to help Benny find the money. It isn’t long before they discover that the enforcer is a few steps ahead of them, and just as determined to take that cash.
Not long into the first chapter, anyone who read and enjoyed COLD SHOT will feel as though they are reading that same novel again. The set-up and situations are almost identical: the same kind of opening heist suddenly gone bad; Crissa again quickly taking stock of herself; the same sad phone conversation with her lover in prison; the same clandestine arrangements with the lawyer trying to expedite the parole; the same reluctance to taking on a new job with total strangers even though it promises a huge take. All the same as before.
It isn’t until Benny — introduced to us in a long, seemingly unrelated chapter — becomes partners with her that the story deviates from the earlier work. While the slim trust Crissa and Benny hold for each other is expected, it sadly becomes predicable even in the midst of an otherwise well-constructed and fast-paced series of events that lead them to where the cash might be hidden.
Make no mistake: It’s great to have an immediately appealing character like Crissa back. Her skills are more than apparent, and her personal code is reminiscent of Richard Stark’s Parker, another professional thief. Plus, the simple fact that she’s one of the few female crime pros makes her somewhat unique.
Unfortunately, Stroby chose to tell her entire backstory all over again, rather than quickly mention the essential motivating points. The result diminishes the strengths of the entire second half of this new novel.
Whenever a character makes a strong second appearance, readers are usually recommended to the introductory story. In this case, however, it’s a toss-up whether they should choose either the previous novel or this one. Either way, you can skip the other with no loss whatsoever.
For an author as otherwise resourceful and enjoyable as Stroby, that’s an even sadder place to be. —Alan Cranis