Review: Kings of Midnight by Wallace Stroby

Benny Roth is a relic of a near-dead era when mobsters ruled New York with impunity. After a long stretch in the witness protection program, he now lives his golden years quietly and happily enough, working at a restaurant and living with his much-younger girlfriend Marta.

Danny Taliferro won’t let that era go, and why should he? The thrill of having the power of life and death over others hasn’t faded over the past few decades, plus there’s still money in it. Maybe a lot of money. At least six million dollars were stolen in the infamous 1978 Lufthansa heist, and he has reason to believe a big chunk of that is still floating around. He also has reason to believe that poor old Benny may know where some of it is if it’s floating.

Crissa Stone is a hell of a professional thief, but it’s a tough job and things are not going well at the moment. Her lover Wayne is still in prison, and payoffs are needed to assure he gets out at his next parole hearing. Payoffs require cash, and she’s a little short on that right now…

Kings of Midnight is Wallace Stroby’s followup to Cold Shot to the Heart, his first novel about heistress Crissa Stone, and it’s a cracker, jumping like a juiced-up jackrabbit from one suspenseful setpiece to the next, with the reader knowing in the pit of his stomach that each situation can get worse and probably will.

Stroby is an admitted admirer of Richard Stark’s Parker series, and that shows through in both Kings of Midnight and its predecessor. The spare prose will be to the liking of Parker fans, as will Crissa Stone. Crissa is not a female Parker, although she shares traits with him–her ability to plan a heist, her professionalism, and her emotionless way of going about her business to name three.

But unlike Parker, Crissa has emotions–it’s just that she has to keep them suppressed to a nearly inhuman level–to lose control of them at any moment in the man’s world of high-stakes crime would likely cost her her lover’s life, her daughter’s life, and her own, perhaps after some of this underworld’s more animalistic denizens had put her through a fate worse than death beforehand.

It’s in the human moments when Crissa faces up to what she’s sacrificed and what she’s missing where Kings of Midnight packs an extra wallop. She has no real friends. She may have allies, but they’re temporary. She has a family of a sort, but it’s far away and maybe never to be seen again. She’s on her own, and may always be.

One does not need to read Cold Shot to the Heart to enjoy Kings of Midnight, as they stand on their own quite well. But Kings of Midnight gains some power by following Cold Shot to the Heart, and Cold Shot to the Heart also does by being followed by Kings of Midnight.

The Crissa Stone novels are poised to become a major entrant into the ranks of series crime fiction (I think we need one or two more before it can properly be called a series). Both are recommended. Check them out, and check out Stroby’s Gone ’til November while you’re at it.

Full disclosure: Wallace Stroby is a longtime friend of this site.