Friday, September 23, 2011

CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust

Hard Case Crime, ISBN 9780857682857, $7.99, $9.95

Faust has long been a favourite here at Crime Scene Scotland. From the sheer bravura of MONEY SHOT to the alterna-noir of HOODTOWN, she is one of the strongest, most convincing authors of the new noir breed. We’ve been waiting for CHOKE HOLD for a long time now, and figure we have to cut straight to the chase by saying this is one of the most thrilling, exciting and affecting noir novels you’re going to read all year.

At this year’s Bouchercon, Faust talked about how she can promote her books on two levels. There’s the “porn star gets two –fisted revenge on those who did her wrong” angle, and then there’s the more emotional body image, aging and dealing with loss side of the novels that appeal more to the emotional reader. As with MONEY SHOT, the book works on both levels, and quite brilliantly.

When we catch up with Angel Dare (last seen in MONEY SHOT), she’s in Witness Protection, working under the name Julie and seeing a court-appointed psychologist to talk about what happened to her. But with the psychologist more interested in Dare’s past in the porn industry and Dare’s own defences not allowing her to open up to anyone, never mind this nosy shrink, it’s a case of severely wasted time. And then a face from Dare’s past turns up, sending her on the run again. She meets an old acquaintance – Thick Vic – and his kid, Cody, an MMA* fighter on his way up. But there’s no time to get reacquainted as a shoot-out kills Vic and sends Dare on the run with his son.

From here, CHOKE HOLD doesn’t let up for a page. True to her pulp roots, Faust knows how to keep the narrative taut, but never at the expense of characterisation. For all the gunfights and two-fisted action, there’s an emotional honesty that lurks around the edges of the action. Dare may deny her feelings, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely absent. More than once she betrays something of the woman she could have been to the reader, and those moments are truly affecting. On top of that, the supporting cast are brilliantly drawn, particularly the hugely empathetic Hank “The Hammer” Hammond, Cody’s trainer and maybe his only friend.
Dare is an intriguing character. More than simply an avenging angel, she is a truly human creation who tries to deny her own humanity to cope with the situations she finds herself in. She is one of the most engaging heroes to emerge from the crime scene in a long time, and honestly, we here at Crime Scene Scotland are hoping and praying for a third instalment.

Faust herself does a brilliant job at engaging the reader with worlds that may not be familiar to them. Her take on the adult entertainment industry is not always glamorous, but it is never as preachily downbeat as certain other writers might paint it. Dare’s attitude here makes all the difference. To Dare, the Industry is a job, and it comes with its good and its bad. Yeah, its got a lot of damaged people working in it, but what industry doesn’t? Coming out of the other end of the novel, the reader comes to realise that the world isn’t as black and white as they might have believed, whether in the world of organised sex or organised fights.

CHOKE HOLD is a sexy, dangerous and compelling novel from an author whose direct, spare prose burns itself into the brain. If you haven’t read Faust, you need to do yourself a favour a check her out right now.

*Mixed Martial Arts – for the uninitiated, it’s a bit like the new form of wrestling where, essentially, anything goes

Russel D McLean for crimescenescotland 24.09.11