Stroby's New Thriller Comes Up Aces

"Kings of Midnight" by Wallace Stroby
Reviewed by David Marshall James

This compact, tanked-up thriller picks up the saga of Crissa Stone, in all her many aliases, from whence last we met her, in Wallace Stroby's "Cold Shot to the Heart."

Crissa is what could be called a highly methodical thief-- she does her field work before carrying out a job, weighs the risks versus the benefits, and then is as thorough as possible about mopping up her trail and "cleaning up" her ill-gotten gains.

As this novel opens, Crissa is workin' South Carolina along with two male accomplices, literally knocking over ATM machines in late-night bank heists.

When that jig comes to an unexpected close, she's headed up to New York to launder the money and to receive some investment counseling from her attorney (the most confidential kind), who's also her contact with her soul mate, who's doing time down in Texas for armed robbery.

Little does Crissa realize that she's about to become enmeshed in another caper featuring some seriously scary goons left over from the days when the mob ruled the city, the buroughs, Jersey-- you name it, it was their "ersta."

Indeed, the author has said goons zeroing in on an enormous stash salted away from a 30-year-old heist. At the same time, Crissa hooks up with a new accomplice from those halcyon days of payoffs and kickbacks,, Benny.

Benny, who gave the tip for that big heist back in the day, turned tail on the mob when he discovered there was a bullseye on his back. He stayed under government protection for years, then disappeared as best he could, in Indiana.

Trouble is, Benny's been stirring pasta pots in restaurant kitchens, and he's rusty. Moreover, he has reached that point in life when he's concerned with making his amends and "amen's." He wouldn't even be back on the East Coast, except the goons sniffed him out, and he just managed to slip them.

Jimmy Peaches-- introduced in "Cold Shot to the Heart"-- teams Benny up with Crissa, seeing as how he's her unofficial godfather, an aging gangster now residing in an Atlantic City retirement home.

Stroby has a gift for putting the reader on the side of such characters as Crissa and Jimmy Peaches, in the manner of Depression-strapped audiences rooting for movie gangsters portrayed by such actors as James Cagney.

Stroby's taut tale collars the reader and never loosens its grip.

Too many authors present violence in depictions ranging from gratuitous to cartoonish. Stroby, however, knows how to lock and load a firearm, how to disassemble it for disposal down a storm drain or over a bridge. This author is a master of styling criminal violence for the betterment of his plot.

Although the major story concerns are resolved, there is a bit of loose thread here, which bodes well for another Crissa Stone novel.

Suits us fine, particularly if it's as aces as this one.