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Ice Chest


Ice Chest

You can’t read a J.D. Rhoades novel without becoming a fan for life. His dark thrillers --- particularly those featuring troubled bounty hunter Jack Keller --- are all one-sit reads, full of action, twists and turns, and memorable characters. ICE CHEST, his latest novel, finds him eschewing the darker edges of his previous work in the thriller genre, offering instead a caper novel shot through with a somewhat lighter tone. I will leave it for others to decide if it’s his best book to date, but it’s certainly my personal favorite.

Rhoades is one of those very few authors who can throw a large mix of characters into a story stew while carefully defining and describing each one, so that readers --- especially those of us of a certain age --- never get lost in the mix of wondering who is doing what, and to whom. This is especially true of ICE CHEST, which would be memorable for its storyline alone. I read a lot of these books --- maybe too many --- but I don’t remember ever reading a book about a plot to steal a bra right off the body of a model.

"[A] movie could be shot straight off of the book, dialogue and all. The pitch? 'A Redneck Ocean’s Eleven.' Whether that occurs or not, you need to read ICE CHEST; it’s a jewel of the genre."

The bra, of course, isn’t just any bra: it’s the Enigma Bra --- so named after the high-end lingerie company that created it --- and is comprised of five million dollars worth of diamonds and jewels. Enigma is going to unveil it at a showing, “Enigma Presents the Birds of Paradise,” a highly publicized event to be held at the Imperial Hotel in Atlanta. A pair of hoods named Rafe Valentine and L.B. Gordon hatch a plot to snatch the bra as it is being modeled by Clarissa Cartwright, Enigma’s Model of the Year. It is obvious almost from the beginning that the reach of Gordon and Valentine markedly exceeds their collective grasp; the two of them together couldn’t track a train to a roundhouse. It makes the reader want to find out how badly things are going to go, particularly when the duo decides to retain Branson, Valentine’s nephew, as their so-called inside man.

Branson is 19 years old and employed as a member of the waitstaff in the Imperial Hotel kitchen. He is a good guy at heart, probably underemployed and definitely underpaid. The lure of what seems to be easy money is tempting, particularly because he is smitten with a lovely co-worker and needs the funds to woo her. He has also met Clarissa and is extremely reluctant to carry out any act against her that could result in potential violence. Clarissa has problems of her own. She has just broken off her relationship with Mario Allegretti, her New Jersey mobster boyfriend, who does not appreciate getting kicked to the curb. Mario dispatches his associate, a very large man named Aldo “The Moose” Cantone, to Atlanta to keep an eye on Clarissa to make sure she is not fooling around behind his back.

Meanwhile, Paragon Security is overseeing the event, led by an extremely capable ex-cop, Charles “Chunk” McNeill. Chunk isn’t worried that someone will try to steal the Enigma Bra; he knows that the attempt will be made and is determined it will not be successful. No plan of battle survives the first encounter with the enemy, of course, and that holds true for all sides as each and every person in the book is looking for something, with some becoming quite disappointed. Readers, though, certainly will not be.

I would love to see a sequel --- or a series --- come out of ICE CHEST. These characters are so well formed and developed that it seems a shame not to have the promise of seeing them again. And a movie could be shot straight off of the book, dialogue and all. The pitch? “A Redneck Ocean’s Eleven.” Whether that occurs or not, you need to read ICE CHEST; it’s a jewel of the genre.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 26, 2016

Ice Chest
by J.D. Rhoades

  • Publication Date: February 9, 2016
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Polis Books
  • ISBN-10: 194061080X
  • ISBN-13: 9781940610801