If you’re looking for a new favorite author, read THE CONTRACTORS by Harry Hunsicker. Those familiar with Hunsicker’s Lee Harvey Oswald mystery series (featuring a Dallas private investigator who unfortunately bears a name that will forever live in infamy) know exactly what I’m talking about. His works are shot through with losers and users and sudden, explosive (though not unexpected) episodes of violence. It’s hard to guess who is going to emerge alive or at least intact. The overriding star of each book is the city of Dallas, which was thrust into the national spotlight in 1963 and remains so to one degree or another.
Jon Cantrell is an ex-cop --- the story behind the how and why of his separation from the the force is worth the price of admission all by itself --- who navigates the back streets of Dallas that the tour buses never touch. Cantrell and Piper, his professional and personal (though its complicated) partner, are employed by a private contractor, which, in turn, is employed by the DEA. Dallas, you see, is a major drug hub, and cartels, low-level hoods, and legal and semi-legal law enforcement entities are all in the mix, collecting bounties and trying to get a piece of the action while staying alive.
"THE CONTRACTORS reads like a treatment for a new Quentin Tarantino film, full of quirky --- and dangerous --- characters, twists and turns, and enough action to fill another two or three books."
THE CONTRACTORS begins with Cantrell and Piper being set up. What they think is going to be a major drug bust where they can collect a bounty on illegal drugs turns out to result in the discovery of a hostage who is married to a major cartel player. Cantrell gets double-crossed, which is a bad thing, given that he needs the money desperately to get his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father the medical treatment he needs. His efforts do little more than pull an already loose pin on a quite volatile situation, which results in him and Piper holding a high-tech instrument and a very dangerous informant while they are pursued by law enforcement, private agencies, cartels, and any number of extra-legal players with scores to settle.
The action plays out across some of the worst neighborhoods in Dallas before spilling over into the wilds of southwest Texas, where Cantrell and Piper commence an almost dreamlike but extremely violent journey to a small, almost forgotten town where they believe they’ll be safe. Along the way, they are caught in crossfires and double-crosses that seem to come non-stop, and at journey’s end, things just get worse. Cantrell and Piper will be lucky to walk away in one piece, if at all.
THE CONTRACTORS reads like a treatment for a new Quentin Tarantino film, full of quirky --- and dangerous --- characters, twists and turns, and enough action to fill another two or three books. The experience of reading it is akin to sitting in a dark closet while someone opens the door at irregular intervals and lobs flashbang grenades inside. That’s a compliment, in case you’re in doubt. I’m not sure whether the book is intended as a stand-alone work or the first in a series, but I would welcome more of Cantrell and the complicated Piper sooner rather than later.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 7, 2014