The latest Stone Barrington novel by Stuart Woods takes the New York attorney to the west coast for the majority of the action. DOING HARD TIME is action-packed, with multiple murders, numerous attempted murders, hidden identities, and a bonding together of unlikely allies.
Stone and his best friend, Dino Bachetti, wish their newly graduated sons the best of futures following their Yale graduation. The boys are bound for California to film their first screen production. Along with Ben Bachetti’s girlfriend, Hattie, Peter and Ben drive cross-country through the southwest, pulling a U-Haul trailer. Near Mesa Grande, New Mexico, a flat tire slows them down, where they are forced to spend the night. Their high-performance replacement tire must be bussed in to the tiny desert spot.
In the meantime, the gas station mechanic has overheard a conversation between two Russians who have followed the young people. The Russian hit men plan to waylay the three and murder them. The mechanic is a rogue CIA agent, Teddy Fay, who has assumed varied identities for many years, moving quickly when necessary. Stone had dealt with Fay many years before. From here, the story becomes largely Fay’s. Stone and Peter are targets of a Russian mafia boss, long presumed killed by Stone. Fay’s assumed identity is now Billy Burnett, and will remain so until a vowel replacement turns his name to Barnett.
"DOING HARD TIME is action-packed, with multiple murders, numerous attempted murders, hidden identities, and a bonding together of unlikely allies."
Burnett spends several days in Las Vegas, gambling and getting to know his casino hostess, Charlaine, a beautiful companion. When he leaves Las Vegas for Los Angeles, he contacts Charlaine, leaving with her a private secure cell phone number.
On his way to L.A., Burnett stops to gas up his airplane at the remote town of Mesa Grande, where he offers to help out the station owner for a few days. There, he overhears the Russians plotting to kill the Barrington boy. Recognizing the danger, Billy steps in to make certain the kill will not happen. However, he has not anticipated the lengths to which Majorov, the Russian Mafioso, will go to murder Peter. Stone is the sole partner of the world-famous Arrington hotel standing in his way to buy out the property. To Majorov, if Stone’s son is killed, he will no longer stand in the way of a deal. Better yet, he’ll murder Stone as well.
Stuart Woods’s mastery of his craftsmanship is in his characterizations. The reader is fully aware that Burnett (Fay) is a wanted man, capable of devious actions. But his good side shines in DOING HARD TIME, with his genuine attempts to keep Peter alive. When Majarov discovers that Burnett has killed his hit men, the Russian vows revenge at any cost. Mafia money appears endless in supply.
Woods’s knowledge of the aircraft industry provides an opportunity for education in flight mechanics, with a taste of flight instruction. Burnett offers to instruct Peter, providing him the opportunity to become instrument-rated and to eventually fly a jet-prop plane. The activity is a convenient sideshow to the story but provides the setting for important action late in the plot. Airplane hangars, Hollywood movie studios, elegant hotels and posh restaurants round out the scenarios for this fast-paced novel. Las Vegas casino life that panders to the very wealthy gives credibility to Billy’s stance as a man of great means.
Woods writes Peter’s role as a trust-fund child but with ambition to forge his own success in the movie-production arena. He does not, however, turn away the available contacts his father can provide. He and Ben remain thankful for opportunities given to them.
Woods doesn’t leave out the feminine reader’s desire for romantic interest. Charlaine becomes much more to Burnett, marrying him in California. Stone meets Emma Tweed, a famous London fashion designer, when he travels to L.A. to check on Peter. She, in turn, has a talented daughter, Tessa, who is enamored immediately with Ben. The relationship allows Woods to include a bit of tongue-in-cheek parenting advice when Emma confides in Stone.
DOING HARD TIME will entertain the Stone Barrington series fan and broaden the scope of hard-nosed high-action drama found in earlier installments. Perhaps Burnett (Fay) will appear in more novels to come.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on November 1, 2013