Hard Case Crime Review: Bust by Ken Bruen & Jason Starr (HCC-020)


  1. When you hire a hit man to kill your wife, don’t pick a psychopath.
  2. Drano is not the best tool for getting rid of a dead body.
  3. Those locks on hotel room doors? Not very secure.
  4. A curly blond wig isn’t much of a disguise.

Max Fisher owns NetWorld, a successful computer networking company. He is in a miserable marriage, but at least he’s banging his well-endowed (very important to Max) secretary Angela.

Angela persuades Max to hire a hit man, her sort-of boyfriend (not revealed to Max, of course) Dillon, to knock off Max’s wife. Angela will then marry Max, wait for his weak ticker to do him in, and then she and Dillon will be in the money.

Bobby Rosa is a wheelchair-bound Desert Storm vet, professional criminal when opportunities arise, and voyeuristic perv. When Bobby gets a picture of Max and Angela doing the dirty, it kicks into high gear a plot with more crosses than a cemetery.

Bust is a wild ride. It rotates chapters between its three leads, with Dillon ever-lurking in the background, so the reader gets to know these utterly contemptible people quite well through twist after twist and turn after turn. Dark and subtle humor permeates the novel, often based around each character’s prominent weaknesses.

And, boy, are those weaknesses prominent. Max is convinced he is the smartest, nicest guy in the world despite such actions as, oh, ordering his wife murdered. He can rationalize anything and creates entire worlds of delusion around himself. Angela’s intelligence, taste in men, and ability to think in a linear fashion are dubious if I’m being kind.

If they ever decide to translate Bust to film, and I hope they do, whoever does it ought to stick closely to the novel. Its characters, structure, and tone could translate wonderfully to the medium. Think Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, only much darker and with lots of violence.

Bust is a terrifically fun noir that should be considered a minor classic of the genre. Certainly fans of Donald Westlake will enjoy it very much. Highly recommended.

Note: Bust is followed by three sequels so far, SlideThe Max, and Pimp. I hope to have reviews of those up soon. 

Related posts:

Hard Case Crime review: Fake I.D. by Jason Starr (HCC-056)


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