THE BLACK RUSSIAN - Lenny Bartulin

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The Black Russian
Jack Susko
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Book Synopsis

After yet another slow week at the cash register, Susko Books - that fine purveyor of second-hand literature - is facing financial ruin.  Jack Susko heads to a gallery in Woolahra to scrape up some funds with the sale of an old art catalogue.  With his characteristic panache and exquisite timing, he arrives, just as De Groot Galleries is being done over by masked thieves.  Along with a mysterious object from the safe, the robbers seize a valuable first edition from Jack's bag, too.

Book Review

Having really enjoyed the first Jack Susko book, A DEADLY BUSINESS, it was music to my ears to find that the second book was on its way.  THE BLACK RUSSIAN sees not just the return of Jack - but the return of all of Jack's problems - financial and personal.

In THE BLACK RUSSIAN Jack somehow or other manages, yet again, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Attempting to scrape up some much needed cash, he's doing a special delivery of an old art catalogue when the gallery he has just walked into is held up by a couple of masked thieves.  Masked, yet there's something somewhere in the back of Jack's minds that is ringing bells about one of those gunmen.  Beyond that, much more importantly, the thieves also pinched a rare first edition from his bag.  So it's personal.

One of the fun things about the accidental detective genre is the way in which the author has to set up a scenario for our hero to get himself into trouble in.  I love the inventive methods that so many of our authors use to come up with something that just seems so feasible - as long as you don't spend too much time wondering why your average accidental detective just doesn't lick their wounds and go home and feed the cat!  Jack's detecting skills are still very much from the "poke around and make yourself unpopular school" but he does it with such aplomb (okay well he bumbles around with intent) that it's not only believable, it's frequently quite hilarious.

Part of the attraction of both of these books is the stereotypes, delivered with a dead pan Australian sensibility and wit.  In THE BLACK RUSSIAN, the hero is beaten, threatened, put upon, abused and mistreated.  The villains are, well villainous - menacing, threatening and sinister, surrounded by lots of big, dumb and violent sidekicks.  The girls are gorgeous, dangerous, mad and not to be trusted under any circumstances.  The cat is aloof.  The settings evocative and fresh and clear - you can see the slightly dowdy look of Susko Books, you can hear the off engine notes of the beaten up cars.  The dialogue is frequently funny and Jack does a great line in wise-cracking commentary, lines that definitely have their roots in the hard-bitten, hard-boiled Noir heroes of earlier days.   

THE BLACK RUSSIAN is great fun, and very well done, and something that surely should make your average reader rush out to the bookshops for a copy.  (Perhaps incorporate a search through the nearby second-hand bookshop on the way home, just in case there's a real-life Jack lurking around in there, contemplating a risk just to make a living).

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