By Christa Faust
Hard Case Crime
Christa Faust, Hard Case Crime’s only female writer returns with a brutal, hard hitting sequel to her first Angel Dare story, “Money Shot.” 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 was on the wrong side of a sadistic criminal mob.
As “Choke Hold” begins, we learn Dare had gone into the government’s Witness Protection program and been given a new identity in rural New England. Somehow the revenge seeking killers learned 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 run down, out of the way diner until she can afford enough cash to pay for new counterfeit identity papers.
Then the whimsies of fate intervene and 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 eighteen year old son, a mixed martial arts fighter who he has never met before. No sooner do the two men greet each other then the joint is invaded by a trio of gun wielding Hispanics 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 and by the time she and Hank can fathom the cause, the boy is grabbed by several goons who work for a local Mexican crime boss. It seems of the mob’s cocaine stash had 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 him, 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 and comes to a gun-blazing, bullet rain of destruction in the glitzy American Mecca of Los Vegas. It is classic noir in that the characters, both good and bad, are lost souls without an ounce of hope between 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 barely able to keep one ahead of them from one day to the next.
Had there been some concrete resolution to any of these characters, the ending would have been a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately from the first page to the last, “Choke Hold” is a one way trip down a railroad track to meet the oncoming train of death head on and thus offers up no surprises.
Angel Dare is a well envisioned protagonist and in “Money Shot” there was progression in her development as a character. That is totally missing in “Choke Hold” and thus questions the books very purpose for being, save to watch her run around being chased by killers. Noir fiction is not easy to write and nearly impossible in a first person narrative when from the very first “I”, you know the hero will survive. “Choke Hold” feels like a bad sequel and if there is to be a third Angel Dare book, here’s hoping it has a real finish.