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Won't Back Down: A Jack Keller Novel


Won't Back Down: A Jack Keller Novel

J.D. Rhoades is an author who should be a household name. He is seemingly incapable of writing poorly, which he has demonstrated over the course of his Jack Keller series and a handful of stand-alone novels. All of his books successfully meld capers that go awry with flawed yet appealing protagonists and antagonists who are clever but not smart. The result is an explosive slice of southern noir that is guaranteed to be unforgettable.

Rhoades’ newly published WON’T BACK DOWN, his latest Jack Keller thriller, is a parable of sorts, demonstrating that the consequences of avaricious actions adversely radiate far beyond ground zero of the intentions. Keller is back in rural North Carolina, trying to connect with Francis (“call me Frank”), the young son he only recently discovered he had, and possibly with Frank’s mother, Marie. There are complications connected with him doing this that go somewhat beyond those that readily come to mind, primarily the violence that informs his past and seems to follow him (despite his best intentions) wherever he goes. There is also his past relationship with Ben, Marie’s other son and Frank’s older half-brother, which is convoluted at best.

"The plot of WON’T BACK DOWN is just complex enough to be intriguing, even as it introduces and jettisons with equal aplomb fascinating characters in the final pages."

Keller’s violent background and legal difficulties keep him unemployed and basically a quiet pariah in the area. However, his luck changes when, after intervening in an incident involving the schoolyard bullying of a pair of siblings, Keller is hired as a babysitter/chauffeur/bodyguard to the high school-aged brother and sister. Adnan Khoury, the children’s father, is an enigma of his own making. He ostensibly is a refugee from Iraq and is supposedly in danger due to his actions in aiding United States forces against Saddam Hussein during the Iraq War. But the whole truth is much more complicated. There are a number of players who are after Khoury, and their appearances on the scene quickly endanger Keller, who must protect not only Khoury’s children but his own loved ones as well.

The McGuffin here (as it is so often) is stolen money and a lot of it, or at least the rumor of it. Rural North Carolina isn’t always exactly quiet, but what peace there might be is violently disturbed as alliances are forged and then rent asunder by various parties attempting to locate Khoury and determine the whereabouts of the money he supposedly has. None of them are above (or below) using Khoury’s children as an incentive to reveal his secrets, and it is up to Keller --- as well as some occasional, accidental and reluctant allies --- to stand between the kids and the bad guys. There is quite a body count, and the book twists and turns to a satisfying, if not neat and tidy, ending. Not everyone makes it to the finish line.

The plot of WON’T BACK DOWN is just complex enough to be intriguing, even as it introduces and jettisons with equal aplomb fascinating characters in the final pages. Rhoades does an excellent job of bringing newcomers into the Keller fold so that thriller fans have no reason to ignore this memorable tale, which is one of the author’s (and this year’s) best works.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 8, 2019

Won't Back Down: A Jack Keller Novel
by J.D. Rhoades

  • Publication Date: October 29, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Polis Books
  • ISBN-10: 1947993712
  • ISBN-13: 9781947993716