Reviewed by: Keith Nixon
Approximate word count: 50,000-55,000 words
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Mike Dennis turned full time to writing after a thirty year career in music, which saw him tour all over the US, and several years as a professional poker player in Las Vegas. After several short stories made it into magazines a publisher picked up his first novel, The Take. Mike Dennis lives in Key West where many of his novels are based.
For more information visit the author’s blog.
Don Roy Doyle has just been released from prison after a stretch for his part in a diamond robbery. He arrives in Key West to get his hands on the $200,000 share of the proceeds that’s rightfully his. His attempt to wrestle the money away from his ex-partner in crime, Frankie Sullivan, opens a series of Pandora’s boxes and everyone, from the FBI to the police to the Russian mafia and local politicians, are after him in case he reveals the truth of what really happened to the cash.
It’s 1991. Don Roy Doyle, a hustler and con artist, is just out of prison after a seven year stretch and he has the scars to prove it. He was jailed for his part in a jewel heist, the only gang member that took the fall. In the opening chapter Doyle steps off a bus to arrive back in Key West and settle a few more scores, in particular he wants his $200,000 share of the robbery proceeds. He wastes no time and immediately confronts Frankie Sullivan (Sully) a nightclub owner and partner in the original scam. Sully, however, has ‘invested’ the money in a dubious property deal with the Russians mafia and cannot immediately access it. Doyle gives him a week to do so or expect the worst.
After leaving Sully, Doyle spends subsequent chapters reacquainting himself with characters from his past – Avi Abraham a weapons supplier, BK the mayor and ex-classmate, Ortega the local police officer who threatens to send Doyle back to prison should he step out of line and Mambo DeLima a Cuban criminal. Then Sully ends up dead and Doyle is in the frame for his murder.
And herein lies one of the problems with this novel - new characters pop up almost every chapter through literally the first half of the book (and one or two in the latter half as well) including BK’s patriarchal father, Wilson J Whitney, and Doyle’s ex-girlfriend Norma who’s turning tricks for BK (she immediately becomes his current girlfriend), BK’s needy wife Rita, and a variety of Russian gangsters among quite a few others. Unfortunately, the time spent introducing characters, their past relationship to Doyle and / or the crime, means the rest of the plot feels crammed into the second half primarily because Setup on Front Street is relatively short at 50,000 words. So little space is left to fully explore the plot. For example Ortega the policeman is only made reference to once more in passing, FBI special agent Ryder appears then shifts to the background until it’s time, all too soon and all too easily, to take down the bad guys (helped by yet another character introduced to help Doyle get the information he needs).
That being said, Setup on Front Street was an enjoyable read, the story skipped along at a decent pace and the characters, despite there being so many, were in the main colourful and entertaining. The plot is set against an interesting historical backdrop - the locals are convinced Castro is about to fall and Cuba will be a fantastic opportunity for a new criminal gold rush that is about to begin and the various factions want a piece of the action.
If I were to come across Mike Dennis’ books in the future, I certainly would pick them up and, I am sure, enjoy them.
Infrequent strong language.
None of significance.
Rating: *** Three stars