Three striking stories intertwine in this American fable of family and fidelity. The author uses a vicious minor mobster in New York to explore the influence of nurture over nature – and it’s a set-up that works surprisingly well. The Family is all about family… isn’t it? That’s just one of the crime-thriller clichés which gets serious scrutiny in this sprawling story.
Set a couple of decades ago, Blood Sons creates a credible CIA scheme to resolve the USA’s ongoing issues with communist-leaning Cuba. Like the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Iran contra affair, the ramshackle plan carries all the hallmarks of a semi-deniable, outsourced shambles – one which could leave the agents in the field exposed, outnumbered and ultimately abandoned to an unforgiving fate.
But that’s only one thread of the tale. The main narrative focuses on a pair of teenagers – boys on the brink of becoming men. One is an outright thug, brought up by a sleazeball, old-school gangster. The other had an infinitely more wholesome upbringing with a country couple, living on a farm upstate. He studies hard, gets good grades, is dating his high school sweetheart and might just settle down with her. The city slicker, on the other hand, popped his cherry in a backstreet brothel and loves to party nasty on the hard stuff.
The catch is that these boys were mistakenly swapped at birth. The story starts as they begin their new lives with the right parents – a situation they all hate. Much of the book focuses on the boys’ struggle to adapt to their new circumstances – or rather, in the case of the gangster lad, to rapidly establish himself as the big fish in a small pond. He might be the genetic son of a commendable couple, but violence shaped his early existence. And violence is how he solves his problems, how he achieves his aims. So when his attentions turn to the pretty girl next door, you know it’s going to get grim.
Then there’s the third twist in this tangled tale, involving two CIA agents whose professional relationship is complicated by their volatile personal situation. Working undercover on black ops and intelligence missions, they can’t trust anyone – not their superiors, not the politicians, and possibly not even each other.
For me, the storyline with the undercover operatives was the least rewarding. The people themselves felt like they’d stepped straight out of central casting; she in particular came over like a fantasy character. Think Charlies Angel’s rather than Salt or Atomic Blonde.
By contrast, the scenes of adolescent turmoil are far more credible – you really get the sense of separation and distress when the young lovers are forced apart, and how this actually strengthens their commitment to each other.
This is an early work – his second novel – by an indie author who demonstrates his flair for creative situations and plenty of potential for the future. Blood Sons almost boils over with thought-provoking moral dilemmas, and packs in more than enough action to satisfy hardcore thriller readers.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Blood Sons by David Liscio is available at Amazon
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