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Straits of Fortune by Anthony Gagliano
Review by Ernest Lilley
William Morrow Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060878092
Date: 01 June 2007 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

An ex-cop who thought he'd retire early after a friendly fire incident shook his confidence, Jack Vaughn thought he could escape himself by living an indulgent life as a personal trainer and beach bum in Miami. Sorry, Jack, but some people are born to find find trouble wherever they go, and the only real question is what you do with it when it comes knocking. A great debut novel, with strong overtones of Chandler and Hammett and the evolving voice of a writer to keep under close surveillance.

Jack Vaughn is an ex cop who came from the cold of New York to bask in the tropical heat of Miami. Back in NYC he'd seen and caused too much death and now he wants to be content watching the world go by and making ends meet as a personal trainer for the rich, but the rich have bigger problems than fighting flab, and Jack finds himself entangled in the mesh of money, privilege, and sex when "the Colonel," a brilliant ex military man who made a fortune in biotech asks him to do a favor, for him, for his wild and beautiful daughter, and for a mere hundred K.

What the Colonel wants, it turns out, is for Jack to get rid of the body of the guy Vivian left Jack for, though to hear the other side of the story, Jack was the one who left. That's probably true, considering that he's still running away from the time he killed a fellow cop in NYC in what the Colonel, who knows Jack as well as he knows himself, refers to as "friendly fire".

In one of his rare moments of sanity, Jack refuses the job, but that's before Vivian turns up at his apartment to ask nicely. From then on Jack finds himself in so far over his head that he'd need diving gear to reach the surface of the blood warm waters off the Florida coast, where the most dangerous sharks are above the water, and nobody tells you the truth.

If that doesn't sound like the recipe for disaster to you, then you're not listening. Jack freely admits that when it comes to the Colonel's daughter Vivian, he's left the thinking part of his brain at home. The trick, he tells us in nicely Chandleresque prose, is to know how to survive the experience, and enjoy yourself in the process.

A good goal, no doubt, especially when you're on the run from the demons of your own past.

The good and bad news for the reader is how heavily laid on the Chandler style is. Watching Jack walk into the Colonel's bright but impenetrable mansion to find out why he'd been called back to a place he promised himself he'd never return to, on account of kicking the Vivian habit the hard way once before, it's pretty much impossible not to hear Marlowe's voice over in the background. Jack quips his way through what rapidly becomes a nightmare that drives him to go against every rational impulse he's got. It's not like Jack doesn't have integrity, but it's flexible.

"I know you can't be bought," the Colonel said. "But I was hoping you could be rented for a few hours."
Straights of Fortune is a terrific read, and an impressive debut in the bargain, but its strength is also it's weakness. The author's own voice only comes through towards the end of the book, and my feeling is that we're going to like Anthony Gagliano's work more and more as he becomes more comfortable with his writing. In a way it's an echo of the same journey of redemption that Jack is on, and we can only hope they both survive to see its end.

Our Readers Respond

From Anthony Gagliano (Author):
    Thanks for the great review. I think your comments are spot on. Straits was, aside from my first novel, truly a tribute to the master himself, Raymond Chandler, and I'm glad my admiration for him managed to come through. Thanks again and happy holidays.

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