Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review: Choke Hold

Choke Hold by Christa Faust (Hard Case Crime, 2011)

Ex-porn-star Angel Dare, having been flushed out of the Witness Protection program, now lives under a new, fake name, but she is still the same kick-ass heroine in this sequel to 2008's Money Shot.

Once again author Christa Faust expertly captures the voice of the (traditionally male) hard-boiled narrator.  Angel's follow-up story is well-stocked with wild similes, critical catalogues of character traits, and generally sarcastic observations.  Some cases in point:
He was clearly the brains of the operation, which didn't bode well for whatever plans these three had made.  (20)
He had a face that looked like something the tribe who made those stone heads on Easter Island might have come up with if they'd attempted a portrait of Chuck Norris.  (45)
The cylinder was open and beside it was a single bullet standing upright on its flat end like a tiny hard-on.  (50) 
The landscape was mostly dull, agricultural.  We passed the Kikima Casino that Cody had mentioned, a squat, glittery building that had the used-up, shabby glamour of a hooker in the morning. (75)
As loose as [his shorts] were, it still looked like he was trying to shoplift a Mexican papaya inside his athletic cup.  (116) 
Where we were going turned out to be one of those soulless cookie-cutter suburban developments on the outskirts of Vegas, the ones that look like fake human habitats created by aliens for an interstellar zoo.  (234)
Angel, though, has more to offer than mere attitude.  Her narration brims with insight (such as when she ponders the similarities between the adult film industry and the sport of MMA-fighting) and self-analysis (e.g., Angel's admitted fear of intimacy, her longing for the life and career she left behind, and her struggles to define her true identity amidst a fugitive existence).  In other words, Angel's character is no less rounded than her legendary figure.  Her complexity is matched by that of her love interest in the novel--Hank "The Hammer" Hammond, an aged pugilist with iron fists and a heart of gold; a man who has suffered too many blows to the head and is now prone to migraines, memory loss, and outbursts of rage.

The inciting moment of Choke Hold strains credulity (what are the odds that Angel's ex-lover and former co-star, Vic Ventura, would be meeting up with the son he never knew in the very same desert-Arizona diner where Angel now works?), but the bloody shootout that ensues gets the book off to a rip-roaring start.  Angel assures the dying Vic that she will look after his boy Cody, a promise that will entail delivering the 18-year-old mixed martial artist to Las Vegas for the taping of an Ultimate Fighter-type reality show.  Matters are quickly complicated by the fact that Cody has run afoul of his old boss, a crooked promoter and drug smuggler.  Angel has her own dangerous pursuers to worry about as well; she is being hunted down by a group of Croatian gangsters, the remnants of the sex-slave ring that she helped topple in Money Shot.  (Incidentally, Choke Hold works just fine as a stand-alone, but will be better appreciated when read in tandem with the first Angel Dare novel.)

Faust has crafted a classic page-turner, replete with clinchers that propel the narrative toward the start of the next chapter.  The pacing here is superb, and the scenes of violence as sudden and savage as the strikes of the combatants in a UFC title fight.  I can't think of a novel more aptly titled, not just because throttling maneuvers figure prominently in the climax, but because this action-packed narrative leaves the reader breathless.  Fans of crimson-splashed noir will eagerly submit to Faust's Choke Hold.  Highly recommended.

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