Monday, February 23, 2015

Bitter Water Blues - Patrick Shawn Bagley

BITTER WATER BLUES is the debut novel from Patrick Shawn Bagley, and it's a good one. Although it's set in various places, including Chicago, there's a strong current of redneck noir running all through this book, stemming not only from the small town in Maine that's one of the primary location but also from the colorful characters who populate the story.

The protagonist, though, is hardly a redneck. He's Joey Connolly, a former hitman for the mob who's managed to make a successful break from his criminal past. Of course, that's not easy to do (just ask Ennis Willie's Sand and James Dockery's Bucher about that), so it comes as no surprise when Joey gets roped back into that violent life to do one last job for his former employer.

That job takes Joey to the above-mentioned small town in Maine, where he's supposed to track down a former director of porn movies who has something very valuable in his possession. Naturally, this seemingly straightforward assignment gets complicated by local gangsters, a pair of amateur hitmen, and a cop with plenty of ghosts of her own.

Bagley balances all these elements perfectly and keeps the story racing along to a satisfying conclusion. Along the way there's plenty of great dialogue, some dark comedy, and a sense of time and place that rings absolutely true. BITTER WATER BLUES reads more like the work of a seasoned pro than a debut novel, and it gets a high recommendation from me.

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