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SETUP ON FRONT STREET (Key West Nocturnes Series Book 1) Kindle Edition
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As a Brit. with a penchant for American crime novels I downloaded it, and started to read it immediately.......
...Several hours later I put my Kindle down, having read "Set Up.." in one go.
Fair plot, credible characters, good location setting........all in all a very good read.
After leaving Sully, Doyle spends subsequent chapters reacquainting himself with characters from his past - Avi Abraham a weapons supplier, BK the mayor and ex-classmate, Ortega the local police officer who threatens to send Doyle back to prison should he step out of line and Mambo DeLima a Cuban criminal. Then Sully ends up dead and Doyle is in the frame for his murder.
And herein lies one of the problems with this novel - new characters pop up almost every chapter through literally the first half of the book (and one or two in the latter half as well) including BK's patriarchal father, Wilson J Whitney, and Doyle's ex-girlfriend Norma who's turning tricks for BK (she immediately becomes his current girlfriend), BK's needy wife Rita, and a variety of Russian gangsters among quite a few others. Unfortunately, the time spent introducing characters, their past relationship to Doyle and / or the crime, means the rest of the plot feels crammed into the second half primarily because Setup on Front Street is relatively short at 50,000 words. So little space is left to fully explore the plot. For example Ortega the policeman is only made reference to once more in passing, FBI special agent Ryder appears then shifts to the background until it's time, all too soon and all too easily, to take down the bad guys (helped by yet another character introduced to help Doyle get the information he needs).
That being said, Setup on Front Street was an enjoyable read, the story skipped along at a decent pace and the characters, despite there being so many, were in the main colourful and entertaining. The plot is set against an interesting historical backdrop - the locals are convinced Castro is about to fall and Cuba will be a fantastic opportunity for a new criminal gold rush that is about to begin and the various factions want a piece of the action.
If I were to come across Mike Dennis' books in the future, I certainly would pick them up and, I am sure, enjoy them.
**Originally written for "Books and Pals" book blog. May have received a free review copy. **
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
All the basic Noir elements are present; burned out main character- pleasant surprise he's an ex-con here rather than the usual private detective, damsel in distress, a ingrained political machine that's out to protect its own interests no matter who gets hurt in the process. All of these elements are woven into the plot seamlessly. So, well done on that score.
It also helps the author is familiar with the settings he decribes. The local color punches up the story quite a bit.
Where this one could have used a little work is in providing a little more depth to the characters. Most of the secondary characters feel a little wooden. And the bad ones are cartoonishly drawn.
Other than that is a good read. Highly recommended.
I experienced a few problems getting into the first chapter. The mention of the word guayabera four times in a row had me counting its usage--and this type of fault-finding is never a good thing. It means the reader is not focused on what they should be and I just kept wondering why the author didn't just use "shirt" or another synonym instead of repeating the word so often. There was also an awkward transition that I felt could have been handled in a better way, but I pressed on discovering that Mr. Dennis started hitting his stride in the second chapter. By the fifth, when the main character had a heart-to-heart with BK, the Boy King, I was hooked!
Don Roy Doyle is the protagonist in this yarn. It's his exploits that help propel this nifty story to its explosive conclusion. The story begins with his release from prison. He's served time for a jewelry heist that he and some pals committed back in the day. Instead of ratting out his accomplices, he took the fall and now he's back, looking for his cut of the take.
We follow Donny as he drops in on his old friends. These vignettes fill in the blank spaces and give us excellent character studies of Doyle and his former associates. I should add that the language is something that works in shocking us out of complacency. Don Roy and the other members of this motley crew are not like anyone I've ever met. These are not the people that sat around my family's Thanksgiving table discussing the merits of the acidic balance of cranberries on the palate, but the rough-around-the edges tool helps establish that we're not in Kansas anymore and that these guys are not politically correct. They're self-centered, mercenary, and out for what they can get. Yes, sometimes mutually beneficial alliances are formed, and once in a blue moon, a friendship is forged, but for the most part it's just a matter of taking whatever they can grab.
It doesn't take long for Don Roy's confrontation with a bar owner to rattle some cages. It seems that his demanding to be paid his fair share opens up a whole can of worms. It even threatens his relationship with his old flame Norma. Norma is a wonderful character in her own right, and her presence lends so much to explaining what makes Don Roy tick. All I'll say about their reunion is that chapter seven is beautifully written and downright poignant. In it, I believe Mr. Dennis has perfectly captured the disenfranchised. I mean, what do people who do not think of themselves as fitting into society do with themselves? How do they eke out a living? Why they become outlaws, working outside the structure that does not accept them, making up their own set of rules as they go. This is what happens to Doyle, but in viewing him from the perspective given in chapter seven, Don Roy is injected with humanity and we begin to feel real sympathy for him. It didn't seem possible in the beginning, but Norma is the vehicle that allows us to view Doyle's squishy center.
Of course, the unthinkable happens and this passion that he feels for her is tested in every possible way, including by what she did while he was in prison. It ain't pretty, but there was a real truth in the honesty of the writing. I found it compelling, and from there, it's foot-off-brake time for all the rest of the way.
Taut and complex, this is very well-constructed and enjoyable. Doyle is the maestro that orchestrates a scheme on the fly that will deflect a testy ex-mayor, the Russian mob and a desperate housewife. The plot thickens and all the disparate pieces come together. Just why was Doyle setup and whose true colors will eventually show? Further, who's behind it all and will Doyle ever get his freakin' money? Only getting street cred for time served hardly seems fair, but, man, do we find out!
While the conclusion of the mystery was extremely satisfying, the ending was lacking something. I wanted something more in that final chapter. It's my only real quibble and in writing this review, I'm shifting back and forth between giving it either four or five stars. I'll give it 4.5 which rounds up to 5.
I highly recommend Mike Dennis and SETUP ON FRONT STREET for those that like hard-boiled tough guys with hearts of gold. Of course, in reading a novel this good, a high benchmark has been set. It means that the next story I choose has a big guayabera to fill.
This tale is well told and will hold your total interest as he endeavors to break into this iron clad situation full of powerful men and Russian hirelings wishing to use the Keys as a base to take over Cuba when Castro falls. It is quite unusual to read a storyline where there are no cell phones, computers, or the latest gadgets to help apprehend criminals.
You will enjoy this story that I found and bought on my Kindle from Amazon.
I'm a sucker for a classic Sam Spade gumshoe noir genre. I am also fond of Key West, and I liked the story angles explored: believable plot twists, well developed central character, solid writing. Mike Dennis is a no-nonsense writer, the story is not encumbered with too many random descriptive passages, but it's a little tricky keeping track of all the characters that keep popping up to carry the storyline.
I've no doubt that Mike Dennis knows the itty-bitty city at the end of the road--where the next stop is Havana, or Davey Jones' locker. He paints the town in broad strokes. About the only thing missing are the notorious Key West roosters crossing the road. I rated the book at four stars because the writing itself is solid (unlike most ebooks), but its simple Fiftles style format means the characters and settings aren't fleshed out. It could've used a little more description and metaphor is always good. Closer to a John MacDonald than a Papa Hemingway story--a three point five read with no six-toed cats in sight.