c.2018, Dutton
$27 ($36 Canada)
371 pages

Blood is thicker than water.

That’s what they say: your relationship with family — blood — is stronger than any connection you’ll have with someone unrelated. Blood is thicker than water — except, perhaps, as in the new novel “Bad Men and Wicked Women” by Eric Jerome Dickey, when the blood shed is your own.

Fifty-thousand dollars is a lot of money.

But that’s how much Ken Swift’s estranged daughter, Margaux, suddenly demanded of him. She claimed that it was payback for all the years he was absent. She said it was a small price to pay for abandoning her. And then, just in case he had no plans to give her the cash, she uttered a name that he never wanted to hear again.

It was a name that went far into his history, one that tied him to his boss, San Bernardino, who told Swift what to do and where to be. San Bernardino was why Swift put Margaux off: he had business to take care of on the swanky side of town. Richard Garrett owed somebody some money that he wasn’t paying, and Swift and his best friend, Joe Ellis, were told to take care of the problem.

But a quick visit to Garrett’s mansion opened a world of issues that Swift didn’t need. Joe Ellis, an “instigator” and woman-magnet, flirted with Garrett’s wife, which spun Garrett into a rage. Though Garrett promised to have the money to San Bernardino by that night, Ken Swift sensed that that wasn’t the last they’d see of him.

It wasn’t as if Swift couldn’t use more money himself. Without that 50 grand, Margaux was threatening to take the secret name to the police. Margaux’s mother was back in the States from Africa, and Swift realized that he was still in love with Jimi Lee. All this made him forget his girlfriend’s birthday, and Rachel Redman was threatening to return to her Russian lover. Swift was up to his neck in women with problems — a neck that was stuck far enough out to be vulnerable to attack …

One strong indicator of a good book is how eager you are to return to it. “Bad Men and Wicked Women” surely fills that bill.

Don’t expect that feeling immediately, though. Author Eric Jerome Dickey takes his time getting to the point here; there’s plenty of fluff-dialogue in this tale that doesn’t do much but fill pages, and some that screams “TMI.”

We don’t, for instance, need several pages on one character’s intestinal problems.

What we do need is action, and it arrives in a page-turning fury that handily douses the superfluousness that precedes it. Its presence is like getting your back scratched: it puts you in a mood and you don’t want it to end. Indeed, larger-than-life scenarios are near-hallmarks in a Dickey novel, and nobody does them better.

Yes, there’s trash, flash and violence in this book but you shouldn’t be surprised. You wouldn’t want it any other way, in fact, because “Bad Men and Wicked Women” is thick with thrills.

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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