The king of European thrillers might be an unrecognizable name: Rene Lodge Brabazon Raymond. That's reality, but better recognition would be the fictitious name of James Hadley Chase (1906-1985). In fact, Raymond utilized Chase, James L. Docherty, Ambrose Grant and Raymond Marshall pseudonyms to write 90 novels. Using the sound strategy of picking at random, my first Chase novel is 1970's “Like a Hole in the Head”.
Protagonist James Benson is a Vietnam veteran and former Army sniper. With a distinguished career of 80+ kills, the retired Benson and his wife Lucy are now settling into their new home in Miami, Florida. Benson has purchased a derelict gun range in hopes that his post-military career will be a lucrative one. With only a handful of students and overwhelming repairs, the two are scraping to make ends meet.
Benson is approached by savvy businessman Savano with a rather interesting proposal. Savano claims that he is in a half-million dollar wager that his son, Timoteo, can outshoot a rival's son. One would assume Timoteo is a decent marksman, right? The fact is that Savano was a little inebriated when making the wager – his son can't even lift a rifle much less make a tremendous display of shooting. The offer is for Benson to train Timoteo to shoot. The issue is that the competitive shooting takes place in just nine days. Benson, learning that Timoteo isn't a trained shooter, refuses the job. It's a good move on his part...until money talks.
Savano is a convincing man and soon introduces Timoteo to Benson. Immediately, Benson refuses the job again knowing that Savano's son is a sissy. The boy has a sense of entitlement and a spoiled lethargy that makes him detest guns. After the meeting, Benson refuses the job...AGAIN. Savano, stating that money can perform miracles, offers Benson $25K to train Timoteo. Benson AGAIN refuses and the offer is doubled. Now, Benson knows there's just too much at stake to refuse the deal. Benson must make Timoteo his equal on the range in exchange for $50K. That's a story the reader can't put down.
But, like all of these action-thrillers, the story isn't all that it seems. In fact, this story really becomes entwined with Savano's empire and a wager that is soaked in blood instead of money. Is Savano telling the truth about the wager, or is there something way more dangerous on the line? With Lucy being used as a bargaining chip, the story takes a number of twists and turns that left me reeling. I couldn't put this book down.
I'll repeat that this is my first foray into the world of James Hadley Chase. The man is way more talented than what these sultry (trashy) covers suggest. With an enticing plot development, the author rides these characters to the grave, screaming from the hearse long after the last shots are fired. It's these characters that Chase toys with, placing ordinary people into extreme circumstances to see what will break. That's “Like a Hole in the Head”. This is a must read for action fans...but with fair warning: This book will evaporate your day.
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