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Book Review: Straits of Fortune by Anthony Gagliano

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The seedy underbelly of Miami, a disgraced cop playing both sides of the law, a mysterious rich guy who wants said ex-cop to take care of a problem, a beautiful femme fatale, and a double-cross. It’s been written before, filmed over and over. Yet despite the familiarity of the basic premise, Anthony Gagliano’s debut novel, Straits of Fortune, rises just enough above the clichés to make for an enjoyably fast-paced read.

Jack Vaughn is an ex-New York cop, now a personal trainer in Miami trying to put some distance between his Florida life and the one he left behind in New York (complete with another cop he mistakenly shot and killed). Vaughn is the usual anti-hero of a hundred pulp novels, transformed into a personal trainer to the well-heeled and well-connected of Miami’s upper crust. One of his former clients, the Colonel, hires Vaughn to dispose of a corpse supposedly shot by the Colonel’s daughter, who also happens to be Vaughn’s ex-girlfriend. The corpse is on a yacht moored just off the seawall of the Colonel’s waterfront estate. Jack initially turns him down, but, as usual, the money is too sweet to let go. Once he agrees to dump the body and boat, the action kicks into gear. Along the way Jack runs afoul of the INS, FBI, Miami PD, and a burly henchman who can easily rip Jack apart.

Interestingly the best suspenseful sequence of the book involves a kayak trying to stay out of a speedboat-mounted spotlight wielded by the Colonel’s henchman in the middle of the night, miles off the coast. The palpable sense of fear and intensity brought to this scene is one indication of Gagliano’s potential to be one of the more successful voices in the genre of Florida fiction. It’s not easy to take such an innocuous means of transportation as a kayak (devoid of rapids) and extract a means of conveying tension.

There are some parts, like a needless limo ride with a couple gangsta rappers, that don’t work and feel forced. Some of the dialogue is stilted, as well. But the book flies along at a nice clip, pausing enough to let the reader take a breath. The plot, as it unravels, is nicely understated; Gagliano keeps subplots to a minimum.

While the main story doesn’t end as you’d expect, the book does end with a nice one-off scene of redemption. Straits of Fortune is hardly literary fiction, but Gaglione’s debut is a perfect book for lounging by the pool at the Fontainebleau, sipping a mojito.

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