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I don't know how Steve Brewer does it. Year after year after year, he writes two or three crime novels — some comic, some hardboiled, some in-between — and not a one of them is a clunker. In his latest, he effortlessly succeeds at a deceptively difficult challenge: making a loser likable without playing him for easy laughs.
Lucky Flanagan is a small-time grifter who isn't too good at it, a low-life criminal who isn't too bright and probably isn't worthy of his estranged wife and daughter — but for the fact that he's not too hard or bitter about his destitute circumstances and bleak outlook, and truly loves the woman who dumped him and the daughter he's seldom allowed to see, and he never gives up on the idea of getting them back. It's in the service of this quixotic quest that he agrees to take a job smuggling contraband bologna from Mexico to Albuquerque for $500 a pop, and isn't bright enough to realize that it's probably too good to be true.
It turns out that the guy behind the guy who hired Lucky is dating Lucky's wife, a cold opportunist who hopes that Lucky's bad luck and front-man status for the operation will lead to the sort of disaster that's followed Lucky all his life. And, well, he isn't wrong.
Complications ensure among a cast that includes the aging and easily annoyed "king of Rojo bologna," an all-but-Aspergerish food-safety inspector and a sweet-but-doofusy comic-book nerd among others. Through it all, Brewer keeps a steady but light foot on the pedal, keeping the story lean without sacrificing plot or character nuance or wobbling on his fine line in tone between the hardboiled and the lighthearted. That can only be done by a pro with Brewer's epic track record, which encompasses more than thirty novels.
COLD CUTS is a winner, a crime novel to be devoured like a plate of fried meat droppings in the course of a day, with no bad aftertaste or trace of stomach upset.
Steve Brewer is a master of the humorous mystery. Cold Cuts was a great holiday read. Full of fun, quirky characters, and the most original type of illegal product to traffic across the border. Mexican bologna! Who else but Brewer could have come up with this story? Read it in less than two days and was sorry it was over so soon.
Lucky Flanagan a self styled entrepreneur reduced to go fund me charity chisels thinks he has a shot at the big time when he agrees to smuggle Rojo brand bologna from Juarez into Albuquerque for stupid money. The first trip goes without a hitch. On his second trip he decides to open one of the baloney rolls to see if there are drugs inside. Nothing there but an acute case of food poisoning. Inez, a middle aged straight federal meat inspector is hot on the trail of the smugglers. All the more reason for his boss to get the recipe so that he can market a safe Rojo that's made i the USA. The folks in Mexico aren't too pleased: hilarity and some violence ensues. I'm deducting one star because the ending seems to be forced. At the end it's hard to believe the whole thiung was about bologna.
Once again, Brewer has created a story that will keep you engaged and laughing. In Lucky Flanagan, Brewer gives us a hero that doesn't come even close to living up to that billing, yet we still root for him. Lucky has earned his nickname through his ability to survive lightning strikes, but that's about all about his life that could be considered lucky. He's forever looking for the next scheme ignoring the knowledge that if he'd just apply as much energy to something legal - like a legitimate job - he'd probably do just fine. Instead, Lucky finds himself in the high-powered world of smuggling. Of course, it being Lucky, he's running illegal bologna across the Mexican border. His only motivation is to make things right with his ex-wife and daughter. Lucky is a lovable loser if there ever was one. Cold Cuts turns crime cliches on their heads, hums along at a fast pace and leaves you wanting more. And that's no baloney!
Reviewed in the United States on September 4, 2018
Loved Steve Brewer's latest work, Cold Cuts. As always it's a good mystery wrapped up in hilarious packaging. And, as a veteran journalist on the border, I can tell you -- smuggling bologna is a real thing! Great light read, definitely enjoyed it. You will too.