Pull together the pulp perfection of John D Macdonald and the grassroots grit of James Lee Burke; mix with one of Stephen Hunter’s alpha male Swagger clan; add the cross-border corruption of Don Winslow – and then you come close to the tales of the Wolfe family.
This standalone focuses on Axel, serving hard time with 11 years left on his sentence and longing to meet the daughter he fathered two decades ago. When he seizes an opportunity to escape, a massive manhunt ensues which forces Axel down the Rio Grande and into a desert inferno. As Axel races across desolate landscapes from West Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, he’ll meet more than one reckoning from his past. Can Axel overcome his own reckless instincts, which propel him towards wrathful revenge? Will his need for justice overcome his desire to make amends with his own flesh and blood?
The Ways of Wolfe comes blasting at you from the very first page, as the escaped felons hurtle headfirst into the kind of wild violence which might see them drifting downstream, riddled with bullet wounds… or might just get them to the border. The backstory is deftly spoon-fed in snappy flashback snippets; adding to the suspense without distracting from the action.
Axel could so easily be just another cartel drug dealing guy from central casting, but James Carlos Blake is a far better writer than that. Keeping the narrative lean and focused, he crafts Axel as a complicated character – the university graduate who could’ve gone into the straight side of the family business, and flourished as a corporate lawyer. Instead he wanted to walk on the wild side.
And, oh boy, his wishes came completely true.
There’s a risk with this story (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the surprises) that Blake could’ve taken a softer option, gone for the crowd-pleasing moment at the expense of his characters’ authenticity. Instead he stays true to the notion of genuine noir in hardboiled crime fiction. The truth may set you free, but it’ll hurt like hell in the process.
The writing doesn’t quite reach the honed perfection of Daniel Woodrell or Peter Temple, but overall this is a monstrously enjoyable romp – one with a solid centre. If you’re looking for lightweight froth then this won’t be your cup of cappuccino.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
THE WAYS OF WOLFE by James Carlos Blake is available as an ebook or paperback at Amazon