Book Review: Clifford’s War
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
Fast-paced action in a seedy criminal underworld drives this story of survival, revenge, & friendship
Clifford’s War starts fast. PI/hitman Clifford Dee is in dire straits—injured and alone, imprisoned in an abandoned church in the middle of nowhere. It’s no spoiler to say that he manages to escape to finish his original mission; that’s just when the plot gets twisty.
A seemingly humdrum marital infidelity case yields many surprises, one of which is that Dee’s mob boss, Eustachio Bandoni, insists he drop the matter immediately. The case is a political hot potato, but Dee can’t resist poking around just a little bit more.
The mob reaction, swift and out of proportion, includes the boss calling in an envious rival hitman with an explosive temper to warn Dee off. Chaos and carnage ensue until Dee can put together an unlikely team of gangsters, cops, and civilian bystanders to get him out of a very tight spot.
Clifford’s War is a plot-driven story with many twists, turns, and complications. Structured much like an action movie, the novel begins in medias res with a short subplot, quickly resolved, that turns out to have implications for the main story. This novel is told in present tense with an omniscient point of view.
Private investigator Clifford Dee is a loner. An Afghanistan War veteran troubled by disturbing memories, he doesn’t seem close to anyone, although he has many superficial acquaintances all over town. People like him. He’s found himself working for the mob and been “promoted” to occasional hitman. He’s not happy about the situation, but has made his peace with it, at least for the time being.
The stakes raise when Dee encounters a threat that encapsulates the story’s real challenge to his survival: “He sees something in the center of the floor. It’s casting a long shadow from the sun peering in through the blinds from the other wall. He slowly walks towards it and eventually notices that it’s a knife stuck to a note, plunged into his wood floor. ‘No more watching Buckley,’ is scribbled on it.” Things are about to get bad, and quickly.
How will Dee survive the ire of mob boss Bandoni, the story asks. A second challenge presents itself with Stacy, a ruthless, persistent rival hitman, out for blood. Even if Dee overcomes Stacy, his comfortable, if morally questionable, lifestyle seems over. Quick wits and a clever scheme inform the final action sequence, delivering a satisfactory and well-earned conclusion to Clifford’s War.
The real stars of Clifford’s War are the people. Dee pulls together a group he can rely on, forming genuine friendships among his team. The story paints each detail of dialogue, description, and attitude with such precision that the supporting cast seem real, and each character is memorable. A particular star is Bailey, a Black wheelchair-bound man with a sharp wit and an interesting past who becomes Dee’s best friend. Early on, Bailey demonstrates he’d be a good anchor for Dee’s team, a team he doesn’t even know he needs:
“Well, Mr. Dee, I read people well. You’re confident. Despite your limp, you gotta certain walk…You have the eyes of a killer, but they’re soft…Your accent is different, but familiar. That’s why I’m thinking Georgia or Florida. Oh, and I saw your PI flier.”
Present tense and omniscient point of view are difficult to pull off successfully, and Clifford’s War has a few bobbles that could pull the reader out of the tale. The story does a good job of conveying character motivation, attitude, and reaction through dialogue and gesture, but doesn’t always trust the reader enough to figure these things out.
Lots of dark humor among the cast of unique characters make Clifford’s War a treat. Readers who enjoy fast-paced action in a morally ambiguous, noir setting will find this book a good way to spend their time.
Publisher: Palmetto Publishing
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense / Crime / Noir
Print Length: 280 pages
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