Chuck Hogan has been writing novels for several years but has only recently come to prominence. He was the co-author of one of last summer’s best novels, THE STRAIN, written with film director/producer Guillermo Del Toro. Later this year, the movie version of his book, PRINCE OF THIEVES, is set to be released as the Ben Affleck-directed drama The Town, starring Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm.
Hogan sticks with familiar territory --- the Boston, Massachusetts, area --- for his latest release, DEVILS IN EXILE. Iraq War veteran Neal Maven has returned to Boston to find a city and country suffering from a down-turned economy and with few prospects for a veteran with limited educational background. He ends up working two dead-end jobs: one as a security guard for an overnight parking lot, and the other as a convenience store clerk with a fellow war vet. One night, while on the job at the parking lot, Maven finds himself in a situation where he is forced to use his military training to subdue a group of potential bandits. This act of fearless heroism is witnessed by Brad Royce, who makes note of Maven and his potential.
Royce reaches out to Maven and makes him an offer he can’t refuse: the opportunity to leave his dead-end life and become part of something that will have a positive impact on his community. It also does not hurt that the offer includes the prospect of unlimited earning potential. Royce, himself a former member of the Military Police, has put together a team of ex-military men dubbed “The Sugar Bandits.” What they do is attack the city’s drug trade by moving in on dealers and buyers before a big deal comes down and “liberating” these groups of their drug money while turning around and destroying the product they are attempting to put on the streets.
Royce is a great salesman as he describes what the Bandits (or the “Devils in Exile”) do as being in line with what they were trained to do. He offers his group the chance to really do some good for a change and at the same time profit handsomely from it. The first handful of raids Maven and his new teammates go on prove to be exactly as Royce described. The team shares a nice home full of all the modern conveniences they could ever want. Royce feels they will operate more cohesively as a team if they live together and keep in focus.
Of course, these acts of Robin Hood-like philanthropy do not go unnoticed. A DEA officer by the name of Lash is on the hunt for the Sugar Bandits because he suspects that their brand of justice will only end in tragedy. Maven remains deluded by his newfound wealth and rationalizes that he is able to be both cop and thief simultaneously in “doing good by doing bad.” However, all good things must come to an end, and the Devils in Exile soon come to realize their work may be part of a hidden agenda of Royce that is not nearly as philanthropic as they all thought.
Chuck Hogan puts together an old idea and transports it to the modern age with great success. However, after introducing the principal characters and their initial motivations, the book does drag slightly. Once Lash gets involved and the true agenda of the Sugar Bandits is realized, things begin to roll to the breakneck conclusion. Hogan takes a page from Dennis Lehane with this gritty novel that explores the darker side of modern-day Boston.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 29, 2010