“Noir is not easy to write—and nearly impossible to do successfully in the first-person POV— especially when you know from the very first ‘I’ that the hero(ine) will survive, strangling Choke Hold into its inevitable role: Bad Sequel.”
Christa Faust, Hard Case Crime’s only female writer, returns with a brutal, hard hitting sequel to her first Angel Dare story, Money Shot.
Angel Dare is a former porn star who, in the first novel, found herself mixed up with a group of Croatian mobsters running a sex-slave operation. By the end of that story, Dare had destroyed their organization, freed the captive girls, and found herself on the wrong side of a sadistic criminal mob.
As Choke Hold begins, we learn Dare has gone into the Witness Protection program and has been given a new identity in rural New England. Somehow the vengeance seeking killers learn of her whereabouts, and by sheer luck she manages to elude them and escape—this time completely on her own. Eventually she stops running somewhere in the Arizona desert where she becomes a waitress in a rundown, out of the way diner until she can afford enough cash to pay for new counterfeit identity papers.
Then the whimsies of fate intervene. Into the place walks one of Dare’s old lovers, a former porn actor known as Thick Vic Ventura. He is there to meet his estranged 18-year-old son, a mixed martial arts fighter whom he has never before met. No sooner do the two men greet each other than the joint is invaded by a trio of gun wielding men who shoot Ventura and attempt to kill his son.
By the time the lead has stopped flying, there are several corpses on the floor and Dare is fleeing out the back door with Cody Noon, Vic’s son, in tow. He takes her to his mentor, a famous ex-fighter named Hank who is more than a little punch drunk.
Dare begins to suspect Cody was the real target of the attack at the diner. Before she and Hank can fathom the cause, the boy is grabbed by several goons who work for a local Mexican crime boss. It seems some of the mob’s cocaine stash has been pilfered and Cody is the prime suspect. Having promised Vic as he lay dying that she would protect his son, Dare feels obligated to save Cody; so she and Hank, who has become enamored with her, head south on an ill-planned rescue mission.
Choke Hold is a chase novel that weaves its way from the barren Arizona badlands, to the illegal fighting rings of Mexico, coming to a gun blazing, bullet rain of destruction in the glitzy American Mecca of Los Vegas.
Choke Hold is also classic noir: The characters, both good and bad, are lost souls without an ounce of hope among them. Life has kicked Hank in the head so many times, he has serious medical issues; Cody is pursuing a naïve dream without the slightest idea of the dangerous world he inhabits; and Dare is a tired porn queen on the lam from obsessed foreign killers and barely able to keep one step ahead of them from one day to the next.
Had there been some character arc declension with any of these characters, the ending would have been a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately from the first page to the last, Choke Hold is about chasing death and running from it at the same time—thus the ending holds no surprises.
Angel Dare is a well-developed protagonist in Money Shot because there was progression in her development as a character. Any further fleshing out or added nuance is totally missing in Choke Hold. So why are we watching her run around being chased by killers? Do we care?
Noir is not easy to write—and nearly impossible to do successfully in the first-person POV— especially when you know from the very first “I” that the hero(ine) will survive, strangling Choke Hold into its inevitable role: Bad Sequel.
If there is to be a third Angel Dare book, here’s hoping that it has a real finish