Hard Rock is the sequel to the opening John Rockne investigation, Dead Wood, and it picks up almost immediately where the first book left off. A sensible person would start with Dead Wood, so of course I didn’t, and had to play catch-up during the opening chapters. Happily, author Dan Ames capably balanced the back story with the ongoing action, so I was easily able to get a handle on the central characters and set-up. John Rockne made a major mistake when he was a police officer and a young man was murdered as a result. Now he has a chance to bring the killer to justice – and untangle the mystery which motivated that and other crimes.
What follows is a clear-cut contemporary American gumshoe investigation, in which Rockne tugs on loose threads, bangs on doors, tells fibs, asks awkward questions and comes to several wrong conclusions as the truth eludes him. The narrative is enlivened by his relationship with the local sheriff, a feisty, forthright woman who cuts him no slack whatsoever… and who happens to be his sister. Rockne also comes with the traditional PI’s cast of supporting characters including a useful source of local info in the shape of a journalist who has to be bribed with ever-more outlandish culinary indulgences.
The star of the show is, however, the villain. The scenes involving this nameless contract killer lift the whole narrative out of the ordinary. He’s pitiless and proficient yet pleasingly quirky – inspired by Keith Richards’ guitar playing. His appearances are enhanced by drily witty deadpan dialogue and the character’s ruthless nature: he’s not beyond killing even his own customers. While Rockne bumbles around and falls foul of small town politics (and his own ex-wife), the assassin kinda steals the show.
This book is billed as ‘noir’ and ‘hard boiled’ but it’s a long way from the downbeat grit, stylised writing and snappy dialogue of these genres. Nor is it shocking, explicit or graphically violent. The narrative clips along, but I wasn’t particularly wowed by the protagonist. The plot held together and the resolution was neatly delivered, but I’m not too tempted to pick up the next in the series straight away. Now, if there was a book featuring the bad guy – or even the snarky sister sheriff – then that might’ve grabbed me. Or if Dan Ames lets loose the dark humour which we only glimpse in this book then that’d be more my kinda thing.
The Rockne series would probably be appreciated by readers of Sue Grafton’s ‘alphabet’ books featuring Kinsey Millhone – they share a similar vibe.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Hard Rock by Dan Ames is available as an ebook or paperback