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They Die Alone: A Ross Duncan Novel (Ross Duncan Novels Book 1) Kindle Edition
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Bartley has designed a lead character who is a very bad guy. No civilized person should root for the man. Ross Duncan robs banks and kills people. He takes pride in his craft and makes no effort to justify his crimes or pose as a "Robin Hood". He is loyal to his fellow criminals and expects loyalty in return. Given those societal shortcomings of his protagonist, Bartley has managed create a "Butch and the Sundance Kid" aura for him. Almost against my will, I found myself rooting for the crook.
Bartley does an excellent job developing his main characters and provides the key players with detailed and believable personalities. He does an even better job helping the reader travel back into the 1930s. His historical and sociological research provides readers with detail that is far beyond the usual crime novel. His style brings to mind the early writing of Tom Clancey whose expert knowledge of submarines, nuclear weapons and cold war politics provided readers with exceptional in-depth tutorials on the topics. Bartley has done for the 30s what Clancy did for the 80s.
I particularly enjoyed the inner thoughts and reflections of the protagonist, Ross Duncan. I admired his undeterred loyalty to his friends and his sense of compassion for the innocent, especially those unable to fully fend for themselves.
The story moves quickly, packed with drama, action and emotion.
I will definitely follow this series as Ross Duncan moves forward "...searching for the first emerging points of light off over the horizon...."
The first person protoganist is an independent bank robber in the 1930s who tells the story in the first person. The imagery is quite good and the dialogue smart. All of the bad guys have physical characteristics that highlight their depravity, and the damage that depravity does.
The narrator's take on his profession is that he robs banks with only necessary violence and with good manners.
He knows that he should get out and cannot seem to pull it off.
He comes to Chicago on a mission and two different mob figures either try to hire his services, or betray him, or both. The plot keeps your attention. Apparently, an independent operator can become a pawn between two cartels. The plotting is quite nice with twists and unexpected opportunities taken.
One criticism is that the author needs to do a better job with timelines. Several times, the hero is given a deadline and time passes beyond the deadline, with no action. I thought this was going to be a part of the plot, but it appears it was an error that was repeated several times.
A second criticism is that the two mob cartels appear to be in constant communication with each other. The amount of rumor and inside info is quite large. Of course, the effect on the reader is that you do not know who to believe, and who is making up betrayals. Or perhaps real betrayals and made up betrayals merge. I've never known competing criminal cartels but the amount of inside info seemed a bit much, for organizations that prize secrecy.
I will look forward to the author's second book.
Ross Duncan has a conscience, a sort-of moral compass. He has limits. They are his to know and for you to find out. He’s a tough guy but there are some soft spots, too.
In setting up Duncan’s world, Christopher Bartley embraces the grim, edgy vibe of noir. Darkness, shadows, whiskey, cigarettes, dames, rain, clouds, Tommy guns. Scores to settle. Gangsters talk about murder and mayhem in pleasantries, like innocents. Bad guys get what they have coming. Nobody says “you dirty little rat,” but almost.
Bartley hugs the tropes, plays with them.
“Sleep had evaded me again, and then I dreamed I was dreaming and in that dream I lay awake in bed, glittering riches, and quiet stolen moments sifted through that dream of a dream.”
“She wore pearls around her neck and clinging silk dress the color gin forms when you add a squeeze of grapefruit juice…”
“We sat together like that for a very long time listening to the rain beat steadily against the window. Ten minutes went by and then fifteen, twenty … The rain continued its rhythmic tattoo and still we did not speak. It was a comfortable silence.”
We’re in 1930’s Chicago and "They Die Alone" leads Ross Duncan to a crossroads. He’s hired for a hit, but it’s more complicated than that. That is, deftly complicated (not hard-to-follow). Two rival gangs (one Irish, one Italian) each think they have their hooks into Duncan but, well, Duncan has his own plans based on his own code. We think he's going one way--but Duncan is one step ahead.
Like many complex characters, Duncan has a past and some of the most evocative writing in “They Die Alone” is contained in flashbacks about a former partner and also in the re-telling of a bank robbery spree that goes awry.
Duncan strikes up a friendly relationship with a woman who rents him a room—and her son and their cat. He falls in love with a cool woman who once belonged to his former partner. She’s addicted to laudanum and he’s here to coax her back from the brink of self-destruction. Duncan learns from his lessons, hones his awareness for the “fine moral distinction” that weighs on his soul.
“Shades matter,” he insists.
Yes, it’s an ugly business. Yes, “They Die Alone” is marked by rough violence (and ample references to the mayhem caused by the real criminals and real crime-fighters of the day). But the focus is squarely on Duncan and the human consequences of struggling to stay alive when you’re playing a hideous game and looking—or maybe not—for a place to belong.