Reviewed by: Keith Nixon
Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words
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Phillip Frey has enjoyed a varied artistic upbringing first performing as a child on stage in Cleveland, then onto Los Angeles and New York after graduating. Phillip shifted into writing and directing short films before returning to Los Angeles as a screenwriter. Latterly Phillip entered into a writing career. Dangerous Times was his first novel.
Learn more about Phillip Frey on his website.
Frank Moore, hitman for gangster boss Eddie Jones, has a plan. He intends to rip Eddie off to the tune of $5m, the trouble is he needs to find someone else to take the fall. Enter John Kirk, an ex-soldier turned car mechanic who bears a striking resemblance to Frank. However, things start to go wrong almost immediately. Frank ends up with $10m in his lap, John doesn’t die quite as Frank intended, all manner of people are after the money and then the bodies start piling up…
Even several days after finishing Dangerous Times I’m still not sure about whether I liked it or not. Yes, it’s well written, yes, the characters are well scoped out and yes, the dialogue is interesting. Although I appreciate an intriguing plot that gets to the point with a minimum of fuss and embellishment, Frey’s writing was economic to the point of being terse. So much so it proved sometimes difficult to keep track of what was happening, a few words missed here and there and I was soon lost and having to re-trace my steps for confirmation.
In addition there were several apparent methods of adding interest including switches of character perspective within a paragraph, which just served to jar the narrative and set the teeth slightly on edge. Also, the chapters rolled into one another, just a line space between them.
The whole cast of characters, from Frank’s wife and mistress, to John’s girlfriend and mother, to Hicks the bent cop (who seemed superfluous to needs most of the time), to Eddie and his cohorts, were particularly unpleasant and all, frankly, entirely out for themselves. That the plan went wrong almost immediately led to some interesting outcomes, however I found myself doubting that someone of Frank’s apparent intelligence would have left certain elements to chance (okay, this would have killed the story dead but then suspension of belief stretched).
And to Frank himself. Frey on his website says his protagonist is ‘impish’ and ‘playful’. This would not be how I would depict a sociopathic murderer with a penchant for cutting open main arteries with a razor. The book is also described as being darkly humourous, yet I can’t recall laughing once, it’s just not within that genre.
So, back to the beginning – did I like Dangerous Times? You know, I’m still not sure…
Infrequent strong language.
New chapters did not start on a fresh page.
Rating: *** Three stars