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The black Russian : a Jack Susko mystery by…
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The black Russian : a Jack Susko mystery

by Lenny Bartulin

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Second book in the Jack Susko series, set in modern day Sydney.
Jack owns a secondhand book store that really isn't making its way.
Jack ends up at a robbery where incidentally he loses one of the few decent things he owns. The victim persuades him not to go to the police, but then fails to reimburse him for his loss.
Things go downhill from there and Jack is threatened and fooled left, right and centre by just about everyone he meets.
Lots of twists. Fun, light read. 3.5 Stars. ( )
  quiBee | Jan 21, 2016 |
Jack Susko is a second hand bookseller with major financial problems. When he is delivering an old art catalogue to a customer the gallery belonging to said customer is the subject of an armed robbery. In addition to stealing the contents of the safe the thieves take off with the contents of Jack’s bag which, of course, was one of the few valuable items he owned (a rare first edition of an Ian Fleming novel that he was on his way to a buyer with). This turns out to be only the beginning of Jack’s woes as he reluctantly finds himself the centre of attention for several competing groups of evil villains.

The book’s sub-genre is hard to pin-point but it’s somewhere in the vicinity of black comedy with hints of satire and old fashioned hard-boiled detective caper thrown in. I am loathe to make comparisons of the “if you liked ‘x’ then you'll like this” variety but what it reminded me of most in tone, style and ‘enjoyability’ was a rather good film from several years ago called In Bruges.

I think one of the reasons I was so quickly and easily drawn into what might be seen as an implausible tale is that the character of Jack is entirely believable. Frankly I have never been able to imagine a second hand bookseller being able to make more than a pittance, and I’ve long assumed those shops which look successful at it are fronts for drug-money laundering or other nefarious activities. So a struggling second hand bookseller is not a stretch and the fact that he is funny and hiding a basically sweet nature makes him very likable indeed. Ultimately you want Jack to prevail even though you know it’s unlikely he’ll do so, or at least not with any extra cash in his pocket.

The rest of the characters are equally enjoyable. Even when they are stereotypes like the eponymous Victor Kablunak they are so cleverly drawn as to thoroughly engage the reader. Who wouldn’t like a villain who can create a life philosophy out of James Bond? A bevy of treacherous (but beautiful) women and a cadre of would-be actors moonlighting in the criminal underworld rounds out the cast nicely and the action plays out against a sweltering Sydney summer that I could almost smell and taste due to the skill of Bartulin's writing.

I'll admit I like dark comedy so was probably pre-disposed to enjoying this book but I can recommend it to anyone who wants a book that has a definite Australian feel to it: the setting, the people and the attitude are spot on. Of course if you just want smart wisecracks and a slightly absurd romp it'll fit that bill nicely too.

My rating 3.5, bordering on a 4 ( )
  bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
Having really enjoyed the first Jack Susko book, A DEADLY BUSINESS, it was music to my ears to find that the second book was on its way. THE BLACK RUSSIAN sees not just the return of Jack - but the return of all of Jack's problems - financial and personal.

In THE BLACK RUSSIAN Jack somehow or other manages, yet again, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Attempting to scrape up some much needed cash, he's doing a special delivery of an old art catalogue when the gallery he has just walked into is held up by a couple of masked thieves. Masked, yet there's something somewhere in the back of Jack's minds that is ringing bells about one of those gunmen. Beyond that, much more importantly, the thieves also pinched a rare first edition from his bag. So it's personal.

One of the fun things about the accidental detective genre is the way in which the author has to set up a scenario for our hero to get himself into trouble in. I love the inventive methods that so many of our authors use to come up with something that just seems so feasible - as long as you don't spend too much time wondering why your average accidental detective just doesn't lick their wounds and go home and feed the cat! Jack's detecting skills are still very much from the "poke around and make yourself unpopular school" but he does it with such aplomb (okay well he bumbles around with intent) that it's not only believable, it's frequently quite hilarious.

Part of the attraction of both of these books is the stereotypes, delivered with a dead pan Australian sensibility and wit. In THE BLACK RUSSIAN, the hero is beaten, threatened, put upon, abused and mistreated. The villains are, well villainous - menacing, threatening and sinister, surrounded by lots of big, dumb and violent sidekicks. The girls are gorgeous, dangerous, mad and not to be trusted under any circumstances. The cat is aloof. The settings evocative and fresh and clear - you can see the slightly dowdy look of Susko Books, you can hear the off engine notes of the beaten up cars. The dialogue is frequently funny and Jack does a great line in wise-cracking commentary, lines that definitely have their roots in the hard-bitten, hard-boiled Noir heroes of earlier days.

THE BLACK RUSSIAN is great fun, and very well done, and something that surely should make your average reader rush out to the bookshops for a copy. (Perhaps incorporate a search through the nearby second-hand bookshop on the way home, just in case there's a real-life Jack lurking around in there, contemplating a risk just to make a living). ( )
  austcrimefiction | Apr 29, 2010 |
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Jack Susko arrives just as De Groot Galleries is being done over by masked thieves. When the owner of the gallery doesn't want to call the cops, Jack is offered a sizeable sum to keep silent. But when de Groot arrives at his bookshop to renege on the deal, all bets are off.… (more)

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