Review: Push Back (James Marx)

When I was younger and reading everything I could get my hands on, one summer I ran across the Mack Bolan Executioner series. Never read them in order, and never again after that summer,but boy, those were fun books.

Push Back reminds me of those books,but in a good way. It’s more cerebral than “guy goes out to inflict maximum damage on thugs who wronged his family” but at its heart, it is exactly that.

The book opens with a bang – literally. Dean Riley, former Ranger, ex-cop, is on his knees in his own home when someone uses his gun to murder two cops. He may not be as young as he used to be, but Riley manages to get the upper hand on the murderer and make his escape.

We then go back in time just a wee bit, with Riley’s nephew asking to meet him at a park. They’ll hang out, fish, have a couple of beers, talk. But when Riley arrives, his nephew’s car is there, but he is not – snatched by parties unknown, and Riley decides he’ll get his nephew back no matter what it takes.

What it takes is a ton of driving around, beating up three punks who want to rob him, taking peoples’ cars, sneaking back into his own house – a murder scene – to get a few things, and trying not only to outwit a large crew of corrupt cops, but to figure out what is going on with those corrupt cops.

He figures out part of it right away: they need a fall guy for the disappearance of the nephew, who is being held for a very specific purpose. How to unravel that plays out as Riley makes his way through various bent cops, beating up the people who need it (but not outright killing people unless it’s in defense), and slowly pulling out the thread to get the entire story.

There are a few UK Englishisms in the book, but they’re barely noticeable thanks to the fast pacing of the story.

One of the good things is that he is not some superhero cop who takes a bunch of beatings and bullets but shows no sign of it at all: he does get shot, he gets into fights, and by the end is about as worn down as someone can be without being dead. I suppose that’s a minor spoiler, but come on: there was no doubt Mack Bolan or James Bond would live to fight another day, and there’s no doubt here. There are just degrees of injuries to get past before the next fight. By the ending of this one, there seems to be a sequel planned, and I’ll be happy to read that whenever it arrives.

Four and a half stars rounded up to five because Dean Riley seems like a righteous dude and isn’t portrayed as Superman.

Thanks to Burning Chair LTD and NetGalley for the reading copy.