Skip to main content

The Smack


The Smack

I had to stop reading THE SMACK for just a few minutes. This wonderfully written caper novel, so dark and in some parts so depressing, was almost too much for me at first. Author Richard Lange sucks you in and won’t let you out at a minimum baseline, but the book makes you a part of the proceedings, taking you to places where you will never want to go and making you grateful that you’re not there.

Rowan Petty is messed up. He’s not an addict, though he does drink a bit. He is instead an example of someone stuck in his own bad juices. When we meet him, he is in Reno, Nevada, the self-styled “biggest little city in the world,” but he’s not there for the skiing or even for the gambling. Instead, on a lonely Thanksgiving weekend, Petty is in a dead-end motel with a broken car door, attempting to do the only thing he is halfway good at, which is running phone scams. However, he has pretty much run out of asphalt on that particular road when he is seemingly thrown a lifeline by a former associate of his father’s, someone who was also in the game and has a line on what appears to be a major score.

"This wonderfully written caper novel, so dark and in some parts so depressing, was almost too much for me at first."

It seems that a couple of servicemen in Afghanistan are ripping off their uncle and shipping the proceeds back to the States. They are being hidden away in Los Angeles, awaiting the day when the gents return to the world. All Petty has to do is go to LA, locate the stash and liberate it. It’s easier said than done, but he is desperate, and with his car fixed and a newly acquired traveling companion --- a prostitute he has befriended (or maybe it’s the other way around) --- Petty heads to Los Angeles in a do-or-die effort to snatch up the money. He gets close at first, but never really strikes paydirt, and is on the verge of giving up when circumstances overtake him.

Suddenly, Petty has no choice. He needs a lot of money, and quickly --- it’s literally a life-or-death situation --- and throws every dirty trick in his skillset into getting it. Petty knows he is dealing with some very dangerous people, but doesn’t realize how dangerous and how close they really are. One gets the feeling almost from the beginning of the book that it is not going to end well, and it doesn’t. At least not entirely.

One thing is clear from the start: Petty is not a good guy. Let’s state it positively instead: He is a bad guy who has his occasional moments in spite of himself. Lange does not try to make Petty a sympathetic character; still, you will cheer him on for his motivations, even when you probably shouldn’t. I can count on one hand contemporary authors who can do this as well as Lange: Wallace Stroby, Peter Leonard, Jason Starr, Don Winslow and the late Elmore Leonard. That’s it. Lange also gets into the grit and dirt that rises out of riding out bad luck and terrible decisions that have repercussions for months, years and decades.

It’s all here in THE SMACK, which is worth buying and reading just for its descriptions of crappy motel rooms. And so much more.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 21, 2017

The Smack
by Richard Lange

  • Publication Date: November 13, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316327611
  • ISBN-13: 9780316327619