One of the more memorable things I’ve read in the last few years is Robert Ward’s Red Baker. It’s your typical blue collar male midlife crisis story, only it’s set in Baltimore and is hardcore devoted to the city. Being a native, I love Baltimore tales. When I mentioned to someone that I really enjoyed Red Baker, they suggested I pick this one up.
I’m glad I did. This one is an actual crime story set in Baltimore and it’s twisty. In the first fifty or so pages, I thought I knew for sure how it was going to turn out: like a typical psych thriller that you’d get from the airport. Boy was I wrong. This is a story crafted in the style of something Donald Westlake or Jim Thompson would write. It absolutely deserves the noir tag.
What I liked most about it is Ward’s Bob Wells is relentlessly unlikeable. A down-on-his-luck guy who never got over his glory radicalist days in the 60s, Ward does a good job of making you dislike Wells while caring about the story. All along, his introspective views on what success, power and fame do to a person challenge the reader. Wells is a shallow guy but his story forces one to struggle with larger themes.
If there’s a weakness here, and frankly, it really makes this a 3-star book, it’s the character of Jess. She’s horribly underwritten and comes across as a wish fulfillment female. Ward does build on her later on but too late for what he does with her to matter, especially in moments when it should. Bob and Jess’ relationship is central to the book and it’s a weak center.
Still, I enjoyed this trip to hallowed Charm City enough to give it a Bawlmer Bump to 4-stars. It’s worth checking out if you like those kinds of suspenseful crime tales where the criminal is in over their head.