February 4, 2012

A Backstory Thriller

In debut novels, writers sometimes don’t provide extensive background information about the characters’ lives, which in many cases doesn’t matter, but if the protagonist is to be a series character, readers, the writer realizes, will want to know more about his history. This realization provides an excuse for a poorly structured follow-up novel. The Troubleshooter, Austin S. Camacho’s second novel is the backstory of how PI Hannibal Jones met the four homeless men who became his friends and part employees in his PI business, and how he met his love interest, the beautiful Cuban lady lawyer Cynthia (Cindy) Santiago.

Troubleshooter PI Hannibal Jones accepts a job clearing a building in a tough neighborhood in Southeast Washington DC of drug dealers, addicts, whores, and other criminal types. He needs the money and a place to live after the building in which he lived burns down, forcing him temporarily into a hotel.

Hannibal’s main adversary in this predictable crime thriller is Sal Ronzini, son of  mob boss Anthony Ronzini. After Hannibal evicts the fence who works for Sal from the building, along with the addicts, dealers, and whores, Sal comes after him. Over and over, Sal comes at Hannibal, and each time Hannibal beats him back but not without help.

In the opening, Hannibal negotiates a settlement with a bookie on behalf of ex-taxi driver Ray Santiago, father of Cynthia Santiago, for repayment of Ray’s gambling debts. He hires Ray to be his driver. He meets four homeless men with various skills at the shelter where he volunteers. Sarge is a Black Vietnam vet. Quaker is his White friend. Virgil is a Black former electrician and ex-addict. Timothy is a hot-headed Jamaican and plumber, who does not become a permanent employee as do the other four men. Hannibal’s crew evens the odds against against Sal’s thugs.

Hannibal discourages the residents of the neighborhood from trying to help because he doesn’t want any of them to get hurt.

The only interesting character in the novel is Anthony Ronzini. He explains why Sal refuses to quit trying to evict Hannibal. In the old days members of each ethnic group knew who they were in relation to other groups but cultural diversity and civil rights (“bunch of crap”) confused things, he tells Hannibal.

As Hannibal interprets it, Ronzini is saying “the boy don’t know any other way.”

“If I was another Italian, he'd know how to deal with me," Hannibal said, standing. "Or at least, he'd know he could deal with me. Sure. Sally probably only sees black guys as servants. Or customers. Maybe competitors. But not as men."

"He knows who he is," Ronzini said. "He doesn't know who you are. I mean, he thinks you're a nigger, but you don't act like a nigger. And he's still acting like a dumb wop.”

The novel is interesting because it provides background information about the serious character, Hannibal Jones. It is otherwise a forgettable.