Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteis - book review
Set in Toronto in the mid-1980s, this crime caper about small-time arms-runners, rival gangs, and organised crime networks is the sixth standalone novel from top Canadian crime writer Dietrich Kalteis, author of the notable books Triggerfish and Zero Avenue.
Before becoming a successful novelist, Kalteis started out as a short story writer in 2009, having fifty tales published in numerous popular literary magazines, including the Lowestoft Chronicle. His debut novel, Ride the Lightning, won a bronze medal at the 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards for best regional fiction and was hailed as one of the best Vancouver crime novels.
His latest work, featuring a pack of fierce lowlifes all shooting for the high life, is centred on a somewhat likeable fifty-year-old ex-con named Jeff Nichols. Soon after Jeff’s release from Don Jail, having served an 18-month stretch for stealing cars, he is persuaded by a former prison inmate to work for Ted Bracey, the no-good owner of a used car lot in Toronto.
What Jeff doesn’t tell his long-time girlfriend, Ann - who has stayed with him while he served his prison sentence in the hope that they will one day have kids and own a home - is that the company is a front for a criminal operation covertly transporting automatic weapons over the Canadian border.
Ignoring Ann’s pleas for him to get a regular job and adjust to suburban life, Jeff buys into Ted’s promise of easy money and rapid promotion and convinces himself that his ‘days of bum deals and scratching a living’ are over.
His high-risk job offers no salary except a twenty-five percent commission on sales, the threat of getting shot or dismembered, and the excellent potential for a return to prison.
Ted’s operation involves buying cars at auctions in upstate New York and employing a crew in Poughkeepsie to hide pistols in sealed bags in the gas tanks,and weld cells under the chassis of the cars, packing them with Uzis. They then put the cars on a trailer and ship them north.
Unfortunately, Ted’s customers, the Bent Boys, have been blasting up his AutoPark, thieves posing as inspectors have jacked one of his trailers at the Beamsville Scales and stolen three-dozen guns, and the police are tracing weapons he supplied that were used in nine recent gang killings.
Ted has also fallen behind on his payments to a loan shark named Malcolm Rocca who put up the cash for Ted’s smuggling enterprise and is now ‘getting serious’ about collecting it back.
Earlier, two of Rocca’s vicious thugs, Egg and Bunny, kidnapped Robbie, Ted’s lead salesman, and clipped off his finger with a pair of garden pruners. Now they want to use their pruners on Robbie’s replacement, Jeff, as a further warning message to Ted to pay up.
Only, Ted doesn’t seem overly concerned by the threats. In fact, he has ambitions to get Rocca and his henchmen out of the way altogether, no matter what the risk or the consequences.
Given a $2500 cash gift, his own office, an automatic pistol, tailored suits, and allowed to steer the boss’s 36-footer yacht, for Jeff there is no turning back. Flush with cash and on the rise, he becomes firmly rooted in Ted’s organisation and powerless to escape an inevitable decline into violence, bloodshed, savagery, and a perpetual life of crime.
Full of jaw-smacking fistfights, rip-roaring car chases, and gun-blazing gang battles, Poughkeepsie Shuffle delivers a mighty thump of thrills and spills, and carloads of mean-tempered sons of bitches.
(ECW Press, paperback, £11.99)