It is always interesting when the author of a series introduces a new set of characters in what hopefully will be the first of many volumes. Such is the case with veteran crime fiction authors David and Aimée Thurlo, who have written three different mystery series as well as a number of romantic suspense novels. THE PAWNBROKER, their latest work, introduces a pair of rugged moonlighting private investigators who I’m hoping will be around for some time to come.
The pawnbroker of the title is a lowlife named Howard Baza, who only appears briefly at the beginning of the book before involuntarily being taken off the map. Baza’s pawnshop, an unfortunately named but highly successful establishment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was suddenly all but abandoned by Baza, who in turn sold the place to Charlie Henry and Gordon Sweeney. Henry, an Army special-ops veteran of the Mideast conflicts, is a native of New Mexico and looks forward to the relative peace and quiet of civilian life. Sweeney, an Army buddy of Henry’s who was born and raised in one of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods, has partnered up with his friend with similar hopes of a quiet and sedate retirement.
"THE PAWNBROKER reminded me in some ways of the much-missed television series 'Terriers,' in no small part due to the chemistry between Henry and Sweeney."
Both men are doomed to disappointment. A business transaction between the pair and Baza, which is being handled by Charlie’s childhood friend, Gina, goes terribly wrong when Gina gets into the path of a hail of bullets meant for Baza during a hit that goes partially bad. In the aftermath, Baza lies dead and Gina is clinging to life in a local hospital. Of course, Henry and Sweeney take the damage to their friend personally, and begin conducting an investigation of their own that starts with their interruption of an apparent burglary in progress in their newly acquired business. It seems that Baza had several illegal balls in the air at the time things began going south for him financially, which appear to have resulted in his being a target for any one of a number of street gangs.
Baza also became involved with an extremely attractive employee named Ruth, with whom he planned to leave Albuquerque to begin a new life elsewhere. As Henry and Sweeney soon discover, however, there is much more to Ruth than is immediately apparent. As a result, their own attempts to aid Ruth, as the truth behind her past life and her relationship with Baza slowly begins to play out, puts the partners in some very dangerous crosshairs.
Things are further complicated by the police officer in charge of the investigation, who demonstrates a questionable competence but understandably wants to keep the two men out of what he regards as police business. As Henry and Sweeney are grudgingly included in the investigation, a cat and mouse game is carried out between them, the police, and a group of criminals seeking something in Ruth’s possession, which is her only insurance against losing everything she holds dear.
THE PAWNBROKER reminded me in some ways of the much-missed television series “Terriers,” in no small part due to the chemistry between Henry and Sweeney. Though they are a bit of an odd couple in terms of background, they mesh well as a team, not only with respect to their business endeavor but also in terms of their ability to handle the rougher curves that the situations here throw their way. This looks to be a promising new series for the Thurlos, which hopefully will match and exceed the level acquired by their other books.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 31, 2014