Rating: 5 stars
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Hired Muscle almost reminds one of classic noir, a flavor of Raymond Chandler mixed in with an almost contemporary-feel romance. Now, now, before all you noir purists begin arguing the facets of what makes a noir a…well, a noir, recall the third word of that sentence above—almost. Why almost? Because Hank Edwards is not any form of a copycat—no, he is fantastically fresh, and a damn fine writer to boot.
Edward’s tale takes us back to the time right before America enters WWII and throws us head first into a mob turf war that was so indicative of that time. Two opposing mobsters vying for their own piece of the city means that no one is truly safe. We are introduced to a unique restaurant, DuMochelle, where the owner is not only gay, but the waitstaff is as well—all very discreet, but an oasis none the less.
“Enrique, the owner and maître d’, was gay and had hired a number of men he had met in dimly lit bars or back rooms as his waitstaff, myself included. He had never made an overture toward any of us as some other business owners might have done.”
The voice narrating is one of the waiters at the restaurant, Barry. One evening, mob lord Don Lombardi arrives with an entourage of bodyguards and brings along his family to dine as well. Sitting by himself at one of the three tables the group commandeers is a hulking, rather menacing giant of a man, Vinnie. Ah, but here—here lurks a gentle giant. Almost illiterate and most assuredly sickened by the job he must do as the “hired muscle” for Don Lombardi, Vinnie sets his gaze on Barry, who, in turn, feels the magnetic pull of the man from the moment he sees him across the crowded dining room.
What follows is a fine example of both a taut, well written gangster era novella, as well as a soft and tender love story that will simply have you sighing by story’s end. Along the way we will see two men who cling fiercely to the hope that a person is so much more than one sees on the surface. They will face down dangerous hitmen, a repulsive, holier than thou informant, and death itself to finally reach their goal of being together and living a better life. How they travel and whether they are successful? Well, that dear reader you will have to discover for yourself.
I highly recommend Hired Muscle to you. This little gem of a story is a fabulously tight, character driven novella that will leave you gasping in wonderment by the last page. You will fall in love with Vinnie and Barry—their lust turned to love that lights up the page and burns in every sensuous and sexy word Hank Edwards writes for us. But don’t let just my words convince you—let the character of Barry himself share with you a truth that at one time or another speaks of us all.
“That’s why I like you, Vinnie. You’re a good man who’s just lost his way.”
I encourage you, dear reader, to “lose your way” for just an hour or two in this beautifully written story. You won’t regret it, I assure you.