Reviewed by Raquel Thorne
Digital: 265 pages
Available for $2.99 in multiple formats through Phillip Frey’s website.
…Frank watched the news: Suicide bomber in the Mideast kills 30. And then a report about a Texan who shot himself in the head after killing his wife and kids.
Frank nodded at the screen, convinced that we live in the best of all possible worlds.
It’s January in the East Bay. Frank drives up from West Los Angeles to realize his scheme: he has found a doppelganger to murder in an intricate plot to steal millions from his employer, Eddie, and then disappear, his doppelganger dead in his place and nobody the wiser. What Phillip Frey has created in Dangerous Times is a greasy ruck of washed-up characters, in various degrees of moral decay. Sociopath Frank, “the kind of killer who didn’t like to get it over with quickly, unless he had to,” is obviously the most shining example of scum and thuggery. Married to his employer’s niece Ty, Frank is one of Eddie’s most trusted west coast men. Not to be completely upstaged, Eddie and his Chinese crew of villains—from the reserved Dr. May Kuan to the bulky Da Shan—provide their own scummy backdrop to the story.
Other key characters also fit themselves well into the genre. The doppelganger, John Kirk, is an honorable discharge from the marines who shot and killed an Ohio boy in friendly fire shortly after his first deployment. Now working as a mechanic, he vows to never hold a gun again. His girlfriend, Lisa Brock, is described as, “The perfect woman, if it weren’t for her disposition.” A stock and static character, she’s the stripper with an attitude one expects to find in a gritty crime thriller. The other woman in Kirk’s life, his mother Beverly, is a grieving alcoholic widow. Lastly, in Kirk’s circle of what reads as personal hell, is his misogynist boss, Staud. A bully, his rapacity makes him an immediate antagonist in the novel, even with the parade of unlikable characters and questionable antiheroes aforementioned. Another stock drunk, a good portion amount of the action pivots around his largely unbelievable bumbling, which will either annoy or humor readers.
Weaving several parallel and eventually interlocking story lines, Frey also introduces Detective-Lieutenant Benjamin J. Hicks, a 6’4”, 42-years-old, peak of his strength, black man with a chip the size of a white man on his shoulder. The name of this chip may be Captain Harold Davis (“Fat Cap”), Hicks’s racist superior. A down-on-his-luck cop with a dead son and charges hanging over his own head, his life takes an unexpected turn when he teams up with Ty, who it turns out has a grudge against her own uncle. Emily, Frank’s girlfriend, is added to the mix for good measure, and allows for a flourish of partnering and alliances between characters.
Dangerous Times gains momentum midway, standing on the shoulders of its stock grit characteristics—blood, seedy sex, racists, misogynists, and a general lack of scruples—to become a engaging crime thriller when, unsurprisingly, Frank’s murder plot goes astray. A cesspool of “screw-your-buddy” ensues, and as the advert for Frey’s book boasts, it is “not for the squeamish.”
Unfortunately, momentum flags a little at the end. While it was sweet to work a budding romance into the the finale, chapters 103-106 were extraneous summations, detailing the money’s final destination long after we knew the who, when and why—providing no revelations for the reader and deflecting from the drama of the clinching alliance. With the exception of chapter 105, which provides some much needed comical relief after the high-stakes money scramble, these chapters could have been easily clipped and the action left taking place off stage.
While Dangerous Times does not transcend its genre, it plays well within its confines, proving a great read for those who enjoy traditional grit. Available for $2.99 in most digital formats, Dangerous Times is a steal itself.
Phillip Frey was a child actor at The Cleveland Playhouse. After living in Los Angeles, performing in the local theater, he moved to New York where he performed with both the New York Shakespeare Festival and The Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center. His three short films all had international showings, including The New York Film Festival. After another span in Los Angeles, this time as a produced screenwriter, Phillip Frey turned to prose, publishing his two books Dangerous Times and Hym and Hur. He may be found at www.phillipfrey.com.