Shake has served his time and he has plans to go straight and open a restaurant. But when his former boss and lover, Alexandra Ilandryan, shows up and offers him an easy job for good money, he's unable to tell her 'no.' After all, that money can help open his restaurant. All he has to do is drive a car to Las Vegas and exchange it for a briefcase then fly back to Los Angeles. Easy goes right out the window when Shake finds a woman bound and gagged in the trunk of the car he's driving. The woman claims to be a housewife whose gambling, no-good husband ran off and left her to face the music with Dick Moby, a.k.a. "The Whale," a Vegas strip-club owner. It isn't until after Shake puts his life on the line for her that he discovers she isn't exactly what she claimed to be.
Edoardo Ballerini narrates Lou Berney's debut novel and does an outstanding job. His grasp of the characters comes through in pitch, pacing and overall performance. Shake's gullible nature is just as evident as Gina's conniving ways. Ballerini's shifting dialects also helps to extract the essence of the characters, whether it be Alexandra's Armenia accent or Shake's fellow inmate Vader's ebonics. Ballerini's narration helps to emphasize the larger-than-life characters Berney's created. Shake, Gina and Jasper are the kinds of characters you'd like to make friends with, not because they resemble the kids next door, but because they're just plain fun.
Berney's casting in this novel is top-notch; his characters could almost sit around playing cards the entire 300 pages and still make for an entertaining novel. But this isn't 300 pages of card playing, it's 300 pages of traipsing around the world in a rat race for a rather odd religious relic. The timing of plot twists and humor is that of a well-seasoned crime novelist, not a debut writer. Ballerini's narration picks up the humor without exaggerating it, allowing it to strengthen the plot instead of turning it into a slapstick routine. And without clean, crisp dialogue, that humor wouldn't be possible.
GUTSHOT STRAIGHT is a smart, funny, complex caper novel. Edoardo Ballerini's narration compliments Lou Berney's stellar writing. Together they have what will undoubtedly be one of my favorite audiobooks of the year. I encourage you to get a copy...now!
GUTSHOT STRAIGHT is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0061766046) from Willliam Morrow, in trade paper (ISBN: 978-0061766343) from Harper Perennial and on audio from Audible, Inc.