Sunday, August 12, 2012

CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust [2011]

Choke Hold is the follow up to 2008's Money Shot (probably my favorite of the many Hard Case Crime titles I've devoured), in which we met Angel Dare -- an ex-porn star perpetually mixed up in an underworld loaded with shady lowlifes, gruesome violence and rampaging sex. That alone may sound like this is just a piece of hollow trash, but it's anything but. Faust's creation of Angel Dare is nuanced with compelling inner turmoil and surrounded by virtually non-stop action.

(Before I go any further, I implore you to check out Money Shot first; not only will it make this book more enjoyable, it is unquestionably one of the most-fun page-turners I've consumed in the past five years.)

We pick up Angel's life a couple of years after the events of the last novel, and she has been forced by those rascally Croatian sex traffickers to escape her dull witness protection existence in the wake of her testimony against them. While working as waitress to secure a high-quality fake ID in an Arizona diner, one night in walks "Thick" Vic Ventura, an old boyfriend and former co-star, for a meet-up with his long-estranged 18-year-old son. Shortly after Angel and Vic briefly reacquaint themselves, a gaggle of seemingly random punks pour into the diner and litter the joint with bullets. Vic is hit in the mayhem, and Angel and his son, Cody, jet him out of there. She and Cody enlist the help of his washed-up MMA champion and current mentor in the further adventures as they enlist the help of a host on unsavory characters and try to out-run various other murderous thugs, European mobsters and no-good wenches.

This is a bleaker novel than the first, but I don't mean that as a criticism. Gone is the glitzy (at least on the surface) porn world setting of Los Angeles. It's replacement is the underbelly of the mixed martial arts circuit, and the dilapidated Southwest and northern Mexican landscape. Angel is at a lower place throughout this novel than in much of Money Shot, and her surroundings mirror that state. Faust never gives the reader time to pause for long in Choke Hold, as any quiet moments are fastidiously dispensed with by some sort of new and unexpected danger. But those lower-paced scenes give insight to an individual seeped in insecurity and intimacy issues, making lasting relationships hard to come by. By the end, you're left wanting even more Angel Dare. Here's hoping this isn't the last we've seen of her.

By the way, in case you're unaware, Hard Case Crime is a cool publisher that debuted a few years back. Their titles are a mix of reprints of old, often-obscure pulp novels (from people such as  and new releases (like ones from Faust). All are chosen for a reason -- they're really fucking good. However, tough times in the publishing world have led to challenges for the imprint, and they went on hiatus from releasing new books for a while. Choke Hold was among the first released after they had reorganized, and some obvious changes for readers occurred, namely the book is physically larger. Admittedly, I prefer the old mass-market size and format of the books (not to mention the slightly lower cover price), but at least the trade paperback offers a larger display to show off that amazing cover art. All-in-all, they provide a really nice package for a reasonable price. Check out more of them if you dig this one as much as I did.

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