Book Review: Traitor
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
A classic revenge tale for the modern age, Traitor serves up a tasty dish of vendetta at its best: ice cold.
In Steve Malik Swayne’s Traitor, newly paroled Xavier Ruffin introduces the reader to his muse, Vengeance, and their plot to visit retribution on an old friend who let them down. The reader gains deep insight into this anti-hero’s inner psychological workings as the scheme unfolds. Tension springs from Xavier’s risk of losing everything he holds dear because his vendetta has become life’s guiding light.
Xavier is a professional criminal involved in human trafficking, prostitution, and drug sales. A talented musician, he loves to dress well, shop, and party. New to Albuquerque, New Mexico, he becomes friendly with the staff of his favorite athletic shoe store, and soon they are all good buddies, at least for a while. In the years that follow, Xavier and Sean stay tight through their mutual love of music, but the others drift away, particularly Tyson, who embarks on a legal career path.
But when Xavier becomes addicted to drugs, his behavior grows increasingly self-destructive. One fateful night, Xavier is in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnesses a dispute turn into a murder. Before he knows it, he has been arrested and coerced into a plea-bargain deal that requires he confess to the murder: a crime he did not commit. And who is behind this generous offer from the district attorney’s office? His old friend Tyson. Tyson, who wouldn’t take his calls when Xavier was first arrested.
Alone and despairing in prison, revenge morphs from an abstract concept into a real personality: his only friend, confidante, and fixation. Xavier spends the next twelve years figuring out what he’ll do to Tyson when he is paroled.
Xavier is released into an advantageous situation: He has a stable relationship with his girlfriend, housing, transportation, cash, and a business opportunity in the wings; even his parole officer is reasonable. And he had used his time in prison wisely, getting the formal education he’d ignored in his younger days, becoming clean and sober, and taking care of his health. Yet none of these things are as important as the revenge plot.
The story asks the question—How will Xavier preserve his humanity (as evidenced by his loving relationships, productive work, musical creativity, and good health) as he plans and extracts revenge on his enemy? For example, enjoying time at home with his girlfriend, Kamala, Xavier is caught off guard by his own reflection. “When I looked at my reflection, I could have sworn I saw a dented distortion of myself—an evil figure staring back at me. I vaguely heard Kamila call out from the background, ‘Are you alright in there?’… We didn’t have the best of mornings after my little episode, but shit. What could I do?”
He constantly senses the danger to the good life he has built if the plot fails, or if he is found out; Xavier even has a glimmering awareness that success may present its own sort of danger. As he hides his scheme from his partner, he manages to create threats to both their relationship and the plan itself. “How could she ever understand the love affair between me and vengeance? Surely, the pleasure I got from indulging in my obsession would make her see me as the monster I had become, not the man she had waited for all those years.”
Traitor is told in the first person by an engaging voice that carries the story well. Scenes are used sparingly. Through summary, Xavier shares details of his daily routine as well as his inner-most thoughts, weaving a compelling narrative. Yet he holds a few cards close to his chest, and the reader may consider him an unreliable narrator with mad skills in misdirection and the con job.
Xavier is so relentlessly focused on his mission that the reader almost overlooks a few plot questions, such as “Why plan revenge on Tyson, rather than his defense team or the police department?” and “What about the real killer, out walking around while Xavier sat in jail?”
Traitor uses frequent explicit language and contains numerous graphic sexual scenes, including assault.
Traitor is a page-turner that reveals the dark corners of the human mind. At its core, Traitor is a revenge tale of pursuit, punishment, and the consequences of betrayal.
Publisher: Dorrance Publishing Co.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Print Length: 212 pages
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