Rumrunners by Eric Beetner (280 Steps, May 15, 2015) – Up until a couple of years ago, it felt like we often forgot about the pure, unfiltered fun that is the old-school pulp-style hero. Based on Rumrunners, it doesn’t look like Eric Beetner ever forgot.
Tucker McGraw is a pathetic schlub of a man. Divorced, trapped in an unfulfilling job, and detached from his family; he’s pretty much at the quintessential dead-end. When his father, Webb, a career criminal, takes a job that leaves him—and a whole lot of drugs—missing, Tucker needs to reconnect with his grandfather Calvin. Only problem is, Calvin’s one of the originals, a hell-bent, thrill-loving wheel-man who lives for being an outlaw. There’s also a whole mountain of history between Tucker’s family and the family his father and grandfather worked for, the Stanley clan.
Obviously, nothing is going to go quite right once Cal and Tucker band together to find out what happened to Webb. It doesn’t help when Tucker’s teenage son, Milo, decides to show up uninvited either. There’ll be bloodshed, burnt rubber, and a copious amount of property damage done before Tucker gets all of his answers, including those weighing him down the most—who he is and what he wants to be.
I’ll give Beetner credit for bringing in two opposite ends of the crime protagonist coin with little difficulty. It’s a treat to see the old ways clash with the new ways. Calvin, the bull in the china shop and Tucker, the navel-gazing ‘woe is me’ type. The juxtaposition works and Beetner does a great job giving Tucker and Calvin more than just their own voices—they’re both equally likeable for different reasons. I also enjoy getting a slice of crime fiction that takes place outside of the south or east coast. Middle America deserves just as much grit as all the other popular places. The change in scenery was appreciated.
The story, though, it’s relentless. Extremely fun and fast-paced. A carnival of violence and speed and beer with a satisfying ending. Beetner doesn’t let up for a moment and pulls together and engaging yarn of family, greed, revenge, and legacy – the kind of story that evokes Johnny Cash playing in the background. The book is not without its quiet and funny moments, usually at the same time, Calvin is a drinker of ridiculous magnitude and it doesn’t get old to see the geriatric hard-ass chug three or four beers a conversation. The character is the standout of the book, and I wouldn’t say no to a follow-up story about Calvin in his glory days. It terrifies me to think what he was like in his prime.
Overall, Rumrunners will scratch that flyover-sploitation (I just coined this – I own it) itch you may or may not know you have. Being the first of publisher 280 Steps’ releases I’ve read, I look forward to checking out other books they’ve got coming down the pike this year. I also look forward to seeing what Beetner has up his sleeve next.