THE HARD BOUNCE by Todd Robinson

Reading THE HARD BOUNCE is like perching yourself on the corner stool in an unfamiliar bar filled with habitués coughing up taut one-liners. To your right is the storyteller. He's got your ear and he's not letting go until his tale is done. You keep buying his drinks 'cause the story's that damn good. To your left, running down the wood to the door that swings open every chapter or two, are his pals (and worse) who chime in with colour commentary whenever the urge hits.

Your narrator is Boo Malone, a bouncer with a little extra on the ball, a healthy dose of insecurity, and an angry streak that blots out superficial pain. He tells the story straight. He has doubts when he and his partner get hired to find a runaway, but cash is king and how hard can it be to ferret out a rich kid among the street punks that hang near The Cellar? After all, Boston's "got a class line as sharp as a glass scalpel and wider than a sorority pledge's legs."

When the trail leads to a particularly brutal brand of sexual exploitation, you get as angry as Boo and nothing he metes out is going to feel wrong. Bad, yes, but hardly wrong.

THE HARD BOUNCE is a harshly good read. The nasty bits are never gratuitous and they're more than fodder for your vigilante bone. Todd Robinson peels back the curtain on multiple netherworlds and graces each with characters true to their ilk. Boo's own background allows him to reveal the humanity in even the worst of the scum he encounters. You raise a glass, offer a toast of good riddance, and read on.

The non-stop barroom humor is the perfect foil for the violence in Boo's story. In the middle of a brawl, he and his partner trade barbs about their masculinity and compare notes on the impact of homemade stun guns vs. getting hoofed in the gonads.

Like any good storyteller, Boo has you lapping it up, bitter bits and all, believing every word. He foreshadows some twists and delivers others like a sucker punch to the gut. He pulls back from the fire and sheds a tear with you, then wipes his nose, makes you laugh, and says, "And then there was Twitch." And you wanna know. You just gotta know what happens next.

This is not a run and chase 'em thriller. Sure, the movie they make from it will be edge-of-your-seat worthy. But what Robinson does is so much better than that. He tells his complex tale in the laconic voice of a man whose personal rage is held in by thick skin and scars. He lets his listener share in the bighearted tough guy reaction to the pain and detritis that surrounds him. It's hard to imagine how a different narrator could spin so dark a story with more empathy.

Boo, I mean Robinson, holds your ear right to the end. And leaves you thinking you you'll have to stop by this bar next time you're in town, buy him a few drinks, and ask what new story he's got to tell.