Whiplash River by Lou Berney
William Morrow Paperbacks
July 10, 2012
Whiplash River is the second of two books in a series by author Lou Berney. The settings for this mystery/thriller are Belize and Egypt, specifically Ambergris Caye near Belize and Cairo, the capital of Egypt. “Shake” Bouchon is a chef who left his crime-filled past in the US (after a stint in prison) to go to Belize and start over. He bought a restaurant because his true passion is cooking. Unfortunately, he borrowed money for his venture from the wrong guy, a local “businessman” nicknamed Baby Jesus. After he inadvertently loses his restaurant still owing Baby Jesus, Shake and an older ex-CIA type named Harrigan Quinn (who some other dangerous characters want dead) are forced into a scheme that Shake really wants no involvement, but has to participate in or be killed by Baby Jesus and his associates. Unbeknownst to Shake, an American female tourist he was interested in is really an FBI agent and is trailing Shake and Harry to see in what kind of shenanigan they have become enmeshed. Evelyn the FBI agent really wants Shake to “dime out” some of his past associates. After meeting up with Shake’s old girlfriend, Gina, the trio is en route to Cairo to make a deal with an antiquities dealer.
I enjoyed Shake Bouchon’s character immensely, especially his rotten luck and woe is me attitude. Shake refuses to give up and give in to his bad luck after trying so hard to live right and is such a good guy at heart. Harry is extremely annoying and mysterious, just as Mr. Berney wants him to be. I was hoping something bad would happen to him just to stop his incessant storytelling and anecdotal asides. Evelyn the FBI agent is quite funny and seems to have the good luck that Shake can’t seem to attract. Gina, the ex, is also a fun, witty character that I did not want to like at first, but was glad she joined the guys in their adventure. Also in Whiplash River are some other twisted characters that made me laugh.
The title of this book is somewhat strange. I guess “Whiplash” refers to how events changed quickly in the story, and maybe the river referred to is the Nile, even though the characters were not on or near the river that much. (Note: I have since discovered that both book titles refer to the game of poker. The first book in the series is entitled Gutshot Straight. This makes sense, since Shake draws some bad cards, metaphorically.) I like to study names of characters, and bouchon is translated from French as “cork.” Perhaps it was deliberate, but I am not sure.
I received a paperback copy of Whiplash River in exchange for this review. I will say that while I don’t think the book is “literature,” it’s great fiction and a fun excursion across the world that I was glad to read. I want to read the first book now and look forward to the next. Usually I read Stuart Woods for some mystery fluff, and Mr. Berney has put much more effort into his writing than Mr. Woods has in many years. The book also reflects current events around the world and was simply pleasant to read. Lastly, the book is funny.
palapa: an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of dried palm trees (did not really know what those were called).
mestizo: in Latin America, one of European and indigenous descent
pijua: a delicacy, a little river shrimp that is hard to catch (also the nickname of one of Shake’s friends)
pendejos: slang for a group of stupid, idiotic, ignorant useless people
cabron: slang for bastard (Spanish goat)
Kriol: Creole descendents of English and Scottish log cutters, as well as Black Africa slaves, brought to Belize
tapir: A tapir is a large browsing mammal, similar in shape to a pig, with a short, prehensile snout. Tapirs inhabit jungle and forest regions of South America, Central America, and Southeast Asia. Following is a picture of a baby tapir.
Quotes from the book I enjoyed:
–The light came slanting in early, spreading like it had been dropped and spilled on the polished ironwood floor. (Nice sentence.)
–Before Terry had gone to Alaska to work on the crab boats, he’d washed dishes for a time at a steak house in Plano. (I live in Plano.)
–Sticky Jimmy. That’s right. But now the kid’s not a kid anymore, he’s got his own company, natural gas, it’s doing well. You ever heard of fracking? Getting the gas out of the shale? Anyway, our boy came up with a way to do that, a better way. Some engineer on his payroll did, I mean to say. (I work in the oil an gas industry and fracking, of course, is extremely controversial.)
–The past isn’t dead, it’s not even past. (William Faulkner)
–Let’s get down to brass tacks. (Kind of old school.)
–Fifteen seconds! (This happens to also be the name of a book I reviewed earlier.)
–Devane considered, and then gave the girl on his left a nudge. She got up and then all the other girls got up too, like birds lifting all at once off a telephone wire.
–The end of something. (There is always a Hemingway connection in whatever I read. This is the title of one of Hemingway’s short stories.)
–They spotted Evelyn, and, oh, wow, it was like the running of the bulls, but at her. (Another Hemingway reminder.)
This post is one of the stops on the Whiplash River book blog tour presented by TLC Book Tours. Thanks to Trish Collins once again for inviting me. For all of the tour stops, click HERE!