A Last Act of Charity: Stoner, the stoic killer with angst

CharityMaxFrank Westworth’s novels are a recent discovery, and I’m kicking myself for not discovering him sooner. He is absolutely unlike any noir / thriller / hardboiled / espionage author I’ve encountered. After a friend recommended Seven Hells, I had to go to the beginning and check this writer out.

A Last Act of Charity takes every cliché of crime fiction and turns it on its head; it’s something new. The ‘strong, silent’ hero of film and fiction being the most notable one that Westworth demolishes and creates a brand-new protagonist. JJ Stoner is philosophically talkative, especially when it comes to his ‘dirty blonde’ and the effect she has on him.

But there’s a big difference between his monologues and the vain, wisecracking dialogue of most protagonists of the mystery genre. He’ll talk to dangerous fellow killers like Shard Harding, to powerful, secretive government officials like the Hard Man, and to women he might have sex with or he just might have to kill (in self-defense). Not every word he speaks is a cold, hard nugget of unsentimental truth. He can crack wise when he wants to make an odd observation or a corny pun if it helps the conversation. But he’s as deadly as a rattlesnake with its warning rattle.

‘I know depths of angst you could never even contemplate,’ he tells Shard, an Army-trained, now private contractor (assassin), like JJ.  He’s JJ’s doppelgänger—except for the fact he’s a soulless killer, a pure mercenary, whereas JJ is a multi-layered character who plays guitar in his jazz club, rides a Harley, and rents out rooms like a respectably modest landlord. He has a Zen attitude to everything but the Dirty Blonde who torments him with her secrets.

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Westworth’s talent is extraordinarily versatile with language and scenic description. It can range from the shockingly blunt (a sex scene in the Blue Cube’s pissoir between JJ and a female fan who takes on more than she can handle) to an anti-sentimental rhapsody on the perfection of the Harley’s unchanging design to the brutal determinism underlying human emotion. Westworth can shift between the zany comedy to a Zen-like seriousness when it comes to Fender guitars, Hendrix tunes, or the Harley-Davidson’s design. He can also be compactly grim in a few sentences.

Some examples of each:  the Hard Man, a loquacious bureaucrat who has assigned JJ the task of tracking down the murderous assassin of London accountants provides impromptu ‘entertainment’ for crowded restaurant clientele in a not-so-private conversation with J.J. about the gory details transformed into suggestive puns involving castration and decapitation. The double entendre is witty, hilarious. The diners clap and so do we.

Or when JJ efficiently punishes a loudmouthed youth in a coffee shop, we overhear his thoughts about yet another situation where he’s going to be forced into a violent confrontation he did not seek. While he doles out the crippling punishment in a few, fast moves, we silently applaud the measured response, the street justice that rarely happens in life.

I love Frank Westworth’s characterizations, both the major ones, evil and good, and the wacky minor ones. His plots are complex, well-paced. He’s unique.
Robb White, author of The Russian Heist and Dead Cat Bounce

A Last Act Of Charity by Frank Westworth is the first book in the Killing Sister trilogy and is available at Amazon

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