It is a hot July in the early sixties and 23-year-old Ray Kelly is coming home from his stint in the Air Force. He reunites in New York City with his dad, Willard Kelly, Sr. who seems a little nervous and off with him but Ray just puts it down to Ray being gone several years. Both have changed thanks to the passage of time as well as Ray’s military service. He isn’t the boy who went off to serve any longer and has now come home as a man. After a few hours sightseeing and spending the night in the City, they start the long drive home. Thirty-eight miles outside of NYC, a tan-and cream Chrysler pulls alongside of them and the passenger starts shooting. His dad tries to tell Ray something and then dies sending the car straight into a bridge support.

Ray barely survives and days later, reunites with his brother Bill in the hospital. The family soon suffers a second devastating loss when Bill’s wife, a woman Ray had only spoken to on the phone a couple of times and never met, is killed in a car accident. Or could it be something else entirely? Before long, the brothers find out that Willard Kelly, Sr., their dad, had a very shady past that may have gotten him as well as Bill’s wife killed and the killers may not be through until the entire family is wiped out. While Bill clearly from the start fluctuates on the idea of paying the killers back in kind, Ray wants vengeance. Not just for his Dad, Bill’s wife, and to protect Bill’s young daughter. He wants it for himself and to ease the pain just a little of two broken ankles, the loss of his right eye, and the pain that grips his very soul. Ray considers himself adrift without a home or reason for being other than vengeance.

What follows is a dark incredibly twisting tale of double cross and revenge as the brothers go after those responsible. In this re-release of a classic noir novel by Donald E. Westlake by Hard Case Crime, Ray is a complex character driven by his primal need for vengeance, yet not liking the idea or himself too much. He attempts to quell his inner demons through repeated bouts of drinking as he tries to not only ignore and repress doubts as to what he must do, but how he will go on once his mission is finished. It is a harsh world he lives in with limited choices which is clearly reflected in the limited prose.

Unlike a James Lee Burke novel, which can tend towards the noirish and often contains elaborate prose descriptions; this novel features a stark, clipped writing style that steadily moves the action forward. Scene descriptions are limited to the bare essentials and what is described is only done so in terms of story content.  Every word used is used to carry the minimum hard-hitting impact for the reader.

This is a dark and violent novel and very good stuff. Much like the release of “Kiss Her Goodbye” by Allan Guthrie which could also be labeled by some as nothing more than a vengeance novel, this read features a hero deeply troubled yet following his own code of honor to finish off what others have started. Family means a lot and respect has to be earned—own way or another.


By Donald E. Westlake

Hard Case Crime


ISBN # 0-8439-5357-8


208 Pages

$6.99 US


Kevin R. Tipple (c) 2008

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