What does a man do when he gets out of jail? For Jack Palace, he plunges right back into a life of crime. Not because he wants to, but because he has to repay a debt to a gangster named Tommy, who saved his life in prison. Once the debt is repaid, Jack would like to retire completely from the criminal underworld and settle down to a peaceful life with his new bartender girlfriend Suzanne. Yard Dog is the first book in the Jack Palace series, so it’s probably not a spoiler to say that things don’t quite go as Jack plans.
I’ll be honest: when I received this book for review from the publisher, I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it. The whole ‘ex-criminal tries to go straight but gets sucked back in’ genre isn’t really my type of crime fiction. Cozy mysteries, grip lit thrillers, and Agatha Christie are more my speed. Still, as with all the books I receive for my blog, I decide to give it a try, and within a few pages Pasquella’s writing and fast-paced storytelling got me hooked.
From the synopsis, I was expecting a hard-boiled thriller with all the characters sounding like stereotypical tough guys. I was wrong. Pasquella’s narrative style is pretty straightforward, and he has created some really compelling characters that you just keep rooting for. I love Jack Palace. I love how badly he wants to just escape this kind of life, and how much it’s his sense of honour and morality that keep sucking him back in. I love that he’s given multiple chances to walk away, yet he chooses to dive right back into the fray simply because it’s the right thing to do.
The character of Suzanne was also a pleasant surprise. Again, from the type of story I thought this was, I was expecting either a drop-dead gorgeous damsel in distress or a drop-dead gorgeous superheroine who kicks ass and drops sarcastic one-liners without breaking a sweat. Instead, Suzanne’s a pretty complex character herself with a developed backstory that explains why she’s reluctant to hook up with Jack but decides to do so anyway. She can defend herself, but mostly because she’s smart and, because of the dangers of her job as a bartender, keeps a bat behind the counter. I also really like that she calls out a bad guy with a gun for talking to Jack about her in front of her, rather than simply addressing her directly, and more importantly, I also like that she quiets down almost immediately afterward. She demands respect, but she also doesn’t take stupid chances with her own life.
Overall, it’s an entertaining book with compelling characters, and I’m glad I gave it a go. Kudos as well to Laura Boyle, who designed the cover: it’s fantastic!
Thank you to Dundurn Press for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.