When I first picked up J.J. Hensley’s “Bolt Action Remedy” (Down & Out Books) it was going to be one of those courtesy things, give it a few pages, tell myself I tried, and then pat myself on the back for trying. I’m mean come on now, Hensley is an ex-law enforcement officer—yeah, I know, we all come with assorted prejudices—, how good could it be?
Throw into the mix that “Bolt Action Remedy” is a mystery/thriller about an ex-cop hired to look into a year-old homicide case. Two things “Bolt Action Remedy” has going against it for me: the thriller and police procedural formats. I find contemporary thrillers are usually badly written with the addition of massive plot holes. I’ve been let down so many times with thrillers that are not worth the pages they are printed on. One also has to not mind the plethora of coincidences in thrillers, for example, three high school friends, one who is a serial killer, another who served time for murder and the other a cop tasked with chasing the serial killer down. If you’re okay with this sort of thing, more power to you.
The whole ex-cop thing sent me warning signs too. Police procedurals are great if you enjoy fascism. Like to see a cop walk all over the rights of citizens, then police procedurals are your thing. My distaste for Michael Connelly books has grown over the last several years as Bosch repeatedly behaves as if he is above the law. It’s scary how Connelly’s readership is fine with that. (And don’t get me started on the ridiculous names he chose: Hieronymus Bosch, J. Edgar, and Irvin Irving. Is Stan Lee writing this stuff?)
Finishing, let alone liking, Hensley’s “Bolt Action Remedy” had much stacked against it, but I thought I’d give it a shot and, after a few pages, I would shelve it basically untouched. Turned out I was wrong, very wrong.
The most notable thing about “Bolt Action Remedy” is that Hensley can write. Hensley shows that an author who writes with care is smart enough to bypass the pitfalls of plot holes, outrageous coincidences, and unbelievable plot twists. Is this not thriller heresy?!
Hensley isn’t Nabakov or Morrison nor is he pretending to be, but building believable characters and interactions among them is a skill set that should not be ignored. His characters behaved and talked like normal people. Hensley also had me laughing out loud on several occasions.
A part of “Bolt Action Remedy” focuses on the biathlon and Hensley is able to give us the required information without burdening us with long, boring info dumps. One of the ways he does this is by breaking up his fact delivery into multiple segments whether it’s the protagonist Trevor Galloway reading about it on the web, a conversation with biathletes, and watching a race or two.
An issue that follows Galloway, a former Pittsburg narcotics detective, is his periodic hallucinations brought on by a recent heroin addiction. Hensley treats these scenes with care and gets the reader into the angst that Galloway faces as he continues his battle in recovery.
It was also quite refreshing to see cops and ex-cops treat their work as an actual 9 to 5 job. There was some obsession, but not the up-all-hours-skulking-the-dark-streets kind of obsession. A police scene that stood out was when Galloway and the local police chief (it was a small township) searched a hotel room. It felt true and, damn, if I didn’t learn something. More refreshing was reading about cops who respected people’s—yes, even suspect’s—constitutional rights. Shocking! There were also no old girlfriends, best friends or mentors of Galloway in the group of suspects he was looking at. Let that sink in a bit. No coincidences with the suspect pool. Is that even possible?
J.J. Hensley’s “Bolt Action Remedy” was a fantastic thriller rooted in a reality that stretched to the dark border of crime and murder. If like me you tire of the latest thrillers that get all the tweets and love leaving you only to walk away in disappointment, Hensley’s “Bolt Action Remedy” is a thriller you will enjoy. Guaranteed.
Hensley has a new Trevor Galloway book, “Record Scratch”, coming out in late October on Down & Out Books.