Review: Vengeance Is Mine

Steven Torres – Vengeance Is Mine (Blog Tour)

Published by Flame Tree Press, paperback £12.95, also available in ebook. I received a proof copy of the novel from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

First, the official blurb: Ray Cruz is a killer. When his daughter is attacked, he’ll do anything and spill anyone’s blood to protect her. Elena Maldonado struggles to reach her father’s home after she’s been beaten brutally by the henchman of a local businessman, Robert Meister. At one time, Elena’s father, Ray Cruz, worked as hired muscle himself, but he thought he’d left that life behind. When Elena knocks at his door, a wreck and unwilling to explain, his instincts kick in – the instinct to protect his family and wreak vengeance on whoever was behind the brutal message his daughter seems to have understood all too clearly – stay quiet, do as we say or worse will happen and no-one you love will be safe. A trip to the hospital attracts the attention of the police and Detective Jack Carver. Carver warns Ray to let the police handle the case, but Ray is not the type to let this attack go unpunished. It doesn’t take long, however, before the FBI gets involved telling Ray that Elena is working with them. None of this stops Ray from asking his questions, bribing some, intimidating others and beating the hardest cases. Soon, he finds the henchmen, but they know very little about who hired them and nothing about why. Ray makes them pay for their ignorance and their brutality. Detective Carver and FBI agent Ramona Esposito warn Ray against taking things into his own hands not knowing how far Ray has already gone or is willing to go.

The blurb on the back cover of Vengeance Is Mine immediately made me think of that glorious scene in the film Taken, when Liam Neeson talks about his very specific set of skills… This book is rather more subtle than that film, which starts at “slightly unbelievable” and ends up at “totally preposterous”, but they share a protective father/daughter under threat theme as well as a tendency to violence – and the knowledge that for some people, violence is a part of everyday life. 

Robert Meister is exceptionally angry. Lenny, who is somewhere between associate and hired thug, takes the proffered wad of cash, hires the requisite staff, and Elena Cruz gets a severe beating – though she gets in a few smart moves of her own, which makes the men wary and the reader hope for a more positive outcome. She has a husband, William, and a young daughter, Rosita, so the beating may be only the beginning if she doesn’t keep her mouth shut… 

Elena goes from the alley to her father’s apartment. She washes off the dirt and blood, though nothing can remove the bruises and the fear. She won’t tell her father what and who happened to her, nor will she tell the cop who arrives when Ray takes her to the ER. But Ray has an idea of where to start looking – after all, he used to rough people up for a living. Unfortunately, where he starts looking is with Lenny, who tells Meister, whose mood is not improved by the news someone is sniffing around.

The cop from the ER, Detective Carver, is determined to find out what happened to Elena. So is Ray. And then there’s an FBI agent in the mix too. Why is the FBI interested in what is ostensibly a punishment beating? Perhaps because of what Elena did to provoke that beating?

We’re not very far into the book here, and there has been a lot of violence. This doesn’t let up throughout – it has a body count a Taggart scriptwriter might baulk at – so be warned. Calling it Vengeance Is Mine is a big hint as to the contents.

There’s also no subplot, no diversions or digressions; this is a single plot line, eyes on the prize, get started and don’t stop til there’s no-one left to punch novel. That’s not to say there nothing to subtly add interest along the way, for there is – though I’ll give no spoilers, just a warning that not everyone and everything is what they first appear to be.

The style is all clean lines, with plain language and emotions very much repressed – with all the regrets that can bring. There are a few exceptions to this, and the scarcity makes these scenes all the more powerful (Ray and Elena on the bridge lingers with me). There’s not much in the way of depiction place other than the basics of scene setting, which feels like a missed opportunity as this is a New York that isn’t found in glossy movies. And the action doesn’t always bring the tension I was expecting, but being wrong-footed by a book is no bad thing.

The depiction of Ray – unsure of his place in the world unless he can use his fists; knowing that he’s missed out on many of the simple joys of life – is heartfelt, but I would’ve liked a little more about Elena and more on the reasons for that beating she took. However, while it didn’t totally click for me, it might well for you, as Vengeance Is Mine is a solidly built, well-crafted novel which holds the attention and delivers an ending that is both uplifting and a gut punch, perfectly pitched.

Except for a year and a half spent living in Puerto Rico, Derringer award-winning author Steven Torres was born and raised in the Bronx in New York City. He earned a doctorate in English from the City University of New York, and his first novel, Precinct Puerto Rico, came out in 2002 to starred reviews. His standalone novel, The Concrete Maze, came out in 2007. His short stories have been published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Crimespree Magazine, as well as anthologies including Bronx Noir and HitList: The Best of Latino Mystery. His short non-fiction work has appeared in Mystery Scene Magazine and the New York Times. Steven and his family live in central Connecticut. When he’s not teaching English, he is writing stories. If he’s not doing either of those thing he might be gardening, listening to music, reading or travelling.

You can follow the author on Twitter here: @writertorres

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the reviews on the blog tour!

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