No Second Chances–New crime novel brings 1970s pulp tropes to the present

Review by C.J. Bunce

Quentin Tarantino sparked the resurgence of the pulp crime novel with his 1990s homage movies.  The Internet, and especially eBay, found new homes for basements and attics full of the paperback novels.  Digital ebooks made out-of-print books accessible to nearly anyone across the planet.  And the Hard Case Crime imprint combined new talent with the best of the old, reprinting lost novels and publishing shelved novels from crime writers of the past, many for the first time.  Rio Youers’ new crime novel, No Second Chances, now available for pre-order here from publisher William Morrow, is the latest in a trend of authors mixing echoes of Hollywood’s past with its grimy, ugly corners in the pulp crime niche.

The best of these new stories can be found in Kim Newman’s Something More Than Night (reviewed here), which saw Raymond Chandler and Boris Karloff coming together to solve an L.A. murder, and Tarantino’s novel redux of his movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (reviewed here), which re-imagined his own re-imagining of the murder of actress Sharon Tate.  Youers’ No Second Chances takes place now, in the 2020s, but it reads like the author is aiming for Elmore Leonard.  It’s an ambitious, but solid effort, following a young woman from the South arriving in L.A. to make her mark, and her strange collision with a has-been actor, believed by nearly everyone to have murdered his wife.  Youers delivers what is almost a young version of Leonard’s Jackie Brown paired with a mix of Tarantino’s Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton.  It’s the surprising non-sexual chemistry of these two leads–following two different paths but trying to stay alive together when they become the target of a common force of evil–which makes this novel worth reading.

No Second Chances is a B-movie version of the foregoing, still good, but very different.  Not quite creating a visually authentic look at L.A., it lacks the layers of other crime stories, feeling like a combination of Natural Born Killers, The Highwaymen, and Bonnie and Clyde, but only in its plotting and approach to a few days in the life of a couple of outsiders on the edge of that one hopeless, futile, last hoorah.  Kitty Rae wants the chance to be reunited with her son.  Luke Kingsley wants to prove to everyone he didn’t murder his wife.  But one thing stands in their way.

The villain, who proclaims Viking roots as bizarre and inauthentic as the horns on a Minnesota Vikings football helmet, is unfortunately just too far over the top–a villain complete with his own named axe, a melodramatic, unbelievable sort of theatrical madman who contributes a jarring, Bone Tomahawk element to the story, which really would be much better off without him.  None of the characters in the story are particularly likeable–all are varying degrees of criminals.  The character of Luke, and his layering and changes from beginning to end, is the best, fullest crafted.

Fortunately the slack is taken up by a well-drawn, once-good cop turned P.I. whose desire to find proof Luke killed his wife leads her to cross the line from good guy to bad guy.  It’s a mix of tropes you’d find on Burn Notice or a chapter in Max Allan Collins’ Quarry.  It’s all in good company.

The long 400 pages exceeds the length of similar modern crime stories (ones with far more characters and subplots), by about 180 pages.  The story includes some of those moments that make you want to stop reading.  Multiple characters have more than one opportunity to finish their opponent but lose the opportunity to monologuing and other TV melodrama–which in this case could have trimmed the entire third act from the page count and still net a good read.  And it’s easy to say a story is predictable because every reader brings something different to a book, but the order of the killing off of characters mirrors too many crime stories to count.

Still, it may remind you of reading an old, yellowed, crappy 1970s paperback crime novel–in a good way.

No Second Chances, a good pulp crime read and a good ride, is available for pre-order now here at Amazon, arriving in book stores next month.

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