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Highway 61 (Mac McKenzie) by David Housewright
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312642303
Date: 07 June 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Rushmore McKenzie is sweet talked by his girlfriend's daughter, Erica, into helping her father, Jason Truhler, who is being blackmailed by persons unknown. Someone has photographs of Jason lying unconscious in bed; nearby, a young girl, with her throat slashed, lies in a spreading pool of blood. McKenzie travels on Highway 61 from the Twin Cities to the Chalet Motel in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where the girl was stabbed. Jason is an unscrupulous pedophile who can't be trusted and McKenzie soon finds himself ensnared in a complex web involving drug trafficking, arson, and internet prostitution. At the center of this web is a nineteen-year-old prostitute who has information for which everyone is willing to kill.

David Housewright's Highway 61 is a prime example of modern noir. It has big guns, big thugs, car chases, illegal drugs and hot, young prostitutes who McKenzie must protect. All the while McKenzie's inner voice keeps telling him not to get involved in Jason Truhler's sordid existence; unfortunately, his love for Jason's ex-wife, Nina Truhler, owner of a classy jazz bar, and her daughter, compels him to continue his investigation. Highway 61 is a fast-paced pot boiler that really explodes towards the end when the body count escalates. McKenzie doesn't know who to trust when betrayal runs rampant as characters desperately try to save their own skins.

Highway 61 is the first novel I've read in the best-selling McKenzie mystery series, and now Housewright has me for a new fan. Honestly, if not for my research, I wouldn't have known Highway 61 was the series' eighth installment. Nor does it seem to contain any major plot spoilers that would ruin the enjoyment of reading previous ones. Also, this is the first mystery that I've read that is set in the Twin Cities, a densely populated, metropolitan region, located in east central Minnesota, composed chiefly of Minneapolis and St. Paul. During his investigation, McKenzie travels the mean streets, seeking assistance from a wide assortment of unusual characters ranging from a career arsonist to a wealthy governor to an evil billionaire to a Heidi Fleiss-like madam.

I admire McKenzie. He's a large, handsome, mature man with a wry sense of humor; he enjoys jazz, quotes Robert Burns poetry and has a favorite Arabian proverb that performs an active role in this novel: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Often caught in the middle of a skirmish, McKenzie pits bad villains against bad villains in order to survive. He genuinely feels sorrow for murder victims and wishes to avenge them. He truly loves Nina Truhler and her daughter Erica. A former police officer, McKenzie knows how to fight and shoot a weapon; the Beretta seems to be his weapon of choice. Also, he promised his dead father he'd take care of the ducks living on the man-made pond behind his home in Falcon Heights; worried about them, he keeps calling his DNR friend, asking him when they'll leave for the winter.

The wealthiest people aren't always the most intelligent. My favorite part of the novel is McKenzie's discovery of an internet prostitution website known as "My Very First Time". Legal prostitutes, dressed up like little girls, strike various lewd poses on the homepage. Members of "My Very First Time", considered to be a very selective, exclusive club, pay Roberta Weltzin huge fees to have sex with its young girls. This is subject matter that has been ripped from today's headlines. Rep. Anthony Weiner recently joined an ever-growing list of celebrities/politicians who've sent explicit, sexually suggestive material over the internet, which is an uncontrollable means of distributing information. Business conducted over the internet is not necessarily private; anyone can find out about it.

If you are craving an exciting, shoot-'em-up thrill ride, David Housewright's Highway 61 is a must read. There are some intense action scenes involving car chases and parking lot shootouts. There are also some gruesome torture deaths but they are described ex post facto, after the fact. As I expressed earlier, Highway 61 contains all the key ingredients of a great modern noir. This McKenzie mystery series is destined to continue for many years and garner a legion of followers. Fans of vicious noir may also want to read Steve Ulfelder's Purgatory Chasm, Darryl Wimberley's Devil's Slew and Wallace Stroby's Cold Shot to the Heart.

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