I WANT AND I HATE
When S.G. Redling wrote “The Widow File,” Amazon offered it in advance of publication through their Kindle First program. The blurb sounded good, far better than the other three offered, in fact, so I chose it, paying well under the price at which it would soon be offered.
That book was absolutely riveting. I was totally taken in by both the plot and the characterizations of Dani Britton, Choo-Choo Charbaneaux and Tom Booker. I put a five-star review out on all my retail venues and on my blog. I have even referred to Redling’s excellent characterization of the hired assassin, Tom Booker, in other reviews, using it as a comparison to the villain in the book that was being reviewed.
When I received notice that Redling was publishing a sequel to “The Widow File,” I put it on my to-purchase list and did so the very day it was first offered. And I gladly paid full price for it. In the middle of another book at the time, I quickly finished it and jumped immediately to “Redemption Key.” Not often do I push a newly offered book to the top of my TBR list, but the chance to read more about Britton and Booker was just too intriguing and enticing.
And I was not disappointed – not even close. It was all I could do to close the iPad long enough to handle the required chores and appointments of my daily life. In less than 24 hours it was done and what a ride it was!
First off, even though Redling does a good job of summarizing Dani’s backstory and some of the major events from “The Widow File,” there is no way I’d consider “Redemption Key” as a standalone novel. No matter how good Redling’s synopsis is, there is no true way to understand just how Dani and Choo-Choo suffered at the hands of Tom Booker without reading that first book. A synopsis simply cannot explain why Dani, Choo-Choo and Tom think the things they think and do the things they do now. And the details of the emotions and events of the first book are paramount to understanding the oft-used phrase in this book of “I want and I hate.”
The storyline of this book plays out over a little less than 72 hours. We find Dani Britton in a Florida Keys back island fish camp, tending bar, cleaning cabins, killing rats and rebuilding her shattered body. Six months earlier, the CIA had literally dumped her on a sidewalk after releasing her from a 3-month stay in a medical/interrogation facility. She fled to the farthest point she could get from Washington, D.C., and still be warm – Key West, Florida.
She had hoped to hide among the thousands of tourists that swarm that Key on a daily basis. But the groping hands of the drunken visitors in the bar where she worked, and the all too frequent appearance of Agency teams sent to check up on her, got to be too much. So, again, she fled. On her way up the only road out of the Keys, she accidentally found Redemption Key and Jinky’s Fish Camp. And there she found a job and a safe haven amongst a motley crew of other misfits.
Day by day, she has worked her job and then jogged, swam and rope-climbed to rebuild her strength in her shot-up leg and her ripped up shoulder. Finally, feeling strong physically and better mentally, she fears her whole new world will crash around her when she spots a plainclothes federal agent talking to her boss.
For almost two decades, Jinky’s Fish Camp has served as a place where various underworld groups would gather to make and conclude deals. Oren Robinson, Jinky’s owner, is simply the meeting facilitator. He provides the meeting room, the drinks and the introductions of one group to the other. He also establishes and maintains civil order between the parties. Oren, himself, is not dirty; he’s not a player, just an innkeeper with good connections and an ear to the ground. And Dani’s skills as a data analyst, her petite physical size and her ability to hide in plain sight during meetings make her an excellent asset to Oren’s need to maintain order and remain alive.
And then, with the snap of a closing cell phone, it all begins to fall apart. A scheduled deal between the Wheelers, a local duo of brothers who smuggle anything that makes money, and a Canadian mobster by the name of Bermingham is postponed by the Wheelers minutes before the exchange is to be finalized. Bermingham is reputed to be a vicious predator, the cargo to be exchanged is heat sensitive on a day that is already in the 100’s, and tempers are flaring. Oren knows, from experience, that death is on the way.
But in the midst of her fears of the federal agent and the as-yet-unseen Bermingham, Dani finally locates Choo-Choo in Martha’s Vineyard. With the help of a local pilot/smuggler, she quickly retrieves Choo-Choo, convincing him to return with her to Redemption Key. Physically damaged by the horrible scars on his chest from the gunshot wound and the surgeries he received, Choo-Choo is also emotionally damaged. While incarcerated in the same medical/interrogation facility as Dani, the CIA had addicted him to an exotic cocktail of drugs. Then they threw him into a men’s room at Penn Station, writhing from withdrawal, just so his wealthy and politically connected family would think him no more than a junkie and stop investigating his earlier disappearance. And it is here, during the telling of his story to Dani, that she – and the reader – come to hear and understand the meaning of the words that will guide their actions to the end of the 72 hours: I want and I hate.
And at the same time that the action is being kicked off in Redemption Key, Tom Booker discovers Dani’s whereabouts. While in the same facility with Dani and Choo-Choo, the CIA had “convinced” Tom to forego his free-lance status and become an employee of the Agency. They fixed his face and his vertebrae and even taught him how to crochet so that the fine motor skills of his gun hand and his knife hand would return.
And this “repair” job becomes the second catalyst to the execution of the storyline. While Redling does not use these exact words, you get the impression that, because Dani and Choo-Choo were of no lasting use to the CIA, their surgeons sewed them back up with the equivalent of fishing line and a darning needle. Their scars are vicious and visible, intended as both punishment for their lack of “cooperation” and reminders of what they have to lose if they ever break their silence.
However, Tom has no scars; the CIA used plastic surgery and advanced techniques on him so that he would be just as handsome as ever and, thus, of practical use to them in the future. These scars, or the lack thereof, are constantly woven into the storyline. They are, by no means, the equivalent of a “sight gag” but are a literary device that Redling weaves throughout the entire story – right to the very last page. They cement together the decisions made and the actions taken by every character in the book, not just Dani, Choo-Choo and Booker.
Now, the third catalyst is in place. Dani, Choo-Choo and Booker are all in the same place at the same time – again. And the deal between the Wheelers and Bermingham has gone so far south that nothing is going to stop that train wreck. And neither the Wheelers nor Bermingham know just who or what Booker is.
This is one wild ride of a thriller. It is visual, it is detailed, it is realistic, it is emotional and it is incredibly well written. And six pages from the end, you will be clinching your fists and screaming out loud, “No! Booker, no!”
In “The Widow File,” Redling wrapped up the storyline successfully, and, even though there are always more tales to tell, more consequences to explore, as a reader, I felt that it was over. But “Redemption Key” is not the same. Redling does not really end this tale; she just stops at a convenient place. There is no cliffhanger, not by any means, but she does end it with a couple of hooks dangling in the waters of Jinky’s Fish Camp.
Cover Art From Goodreads