White Hot Rocket Ride

Check out my review of Mike and Ayan Rubin’s latest gumbo-infused crime thriller, A WHITE HOT PLAN.

A White Hot Plan is a rocket-sled ride of a crime thriller, pitting a disgraced former New Orleans Police Department detective slumming as a poorly-paid deputy in his hometown parish and a rabid but convincingly crafted band of white supremacists hellbent on unleashing a racial Armageddon in the Crescent City.

Mike and Ayan Rubin do a masterful job of setting their fast-paced story in Cajun Country, a downtrodden and exotic land where everybody’s name seems to end in ‘eaux.’ Their description of Petit Rouge Parish, an insular enclave ruled by a now-dying sheriff named Naquin “Knock” Mouton, is vivid, realistic and evocative while utterly devoid of cliches and caricatures. They’re waltzing through Dave Robicheaux’s turf, but with none of the longing nostalgia and heavy use of dialogue patois found in James Lee Burke’s novels.

Creating a sense of place that becomes a character unto itself is something too few authors bother or manage to do. Too many treat setting as an afterthought, spinning backdrops as one-dimensional as the scenery flat in a playhouse theater. Not these two authors. Their characters are tightly tied to this claustrophobic place. And the rich description of that place defines them as surely as action, dialogue and backstory.

The protagonist is the tarnished cop, Starner Gautreaux, formerly a decorated detective deeply wounded by the deaths of his wife and son, drowned in the attic of their home by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina.

Bounced from NOPD after testifying against three fellow officers who shot a fleeing looter in the back, he’s a pity hire by Sheriff Knock, marking time in a ratty double-wide, writing speed trap traffic tickets and looking the other way at the sheriff’s kickbacks from the son of a mobster he savagely beat decades ago and the incompetence of fellow deputies who despise him.

Everybody in town knows his story. They see him as a loser who got his comeuppance after leaving the parish in a failed grab for glory in the big city. His fall from grace is an echo of Robicheaux, but Gautreaux is white knuckling his downward slide without the help of AA meetings or the spectacular outbursts of self-destructive violence.

He’s miserable but unwilling to pull himself from the mire. Until he runs across a dead body in a burning tanker truck that appears to have run off the road. And that rig explodes with a powerful blast that almost kills him and melts the rig’s metal.

Far too hot a burn for diesel fuel and a body too charred for easy identification. The incompetent parish coroner refuses to get a DNA sample for testing. And Knock tells him to forget the whole thing.
But Gautreaux can’t let it go. In fits and starts, he keeps poking at the mystery, rekindling the buried instincts that made him a decorated detective. It’s the beginning of a rocky road to redemption.

People start to disappear. More bodies start to drop. And Knock stiff-arms Gautreaux’s initiative by calling in a couple of the mobster’s enforcers to interview the stripper mistress of a missing junkyard dealer.

He doesn’t know it yet, but Gautreaux’s on the trail of a band of white supremacists who call themselves the Alabaster Brigade. They want to start a racial holy war by packing a school bus full of a powerful explosive invented by their major financial benefactor. Target unknown at first, but gradually revealed as the French Quarter during a festival promoting unity and racial harmony.

The authors do a great job of creating this rag-tag band of violent domestic terrorists and their perverted use of the Bible to justify their murderous intent. The dialogue, both internal and external, and the ideological rants ring true to anybody who has studied or met America’s ultra-right-wing extremists.

The hoods and robes are gone, but the brigade’s para-military structure and ranks have Kluxer echoes — using a K to spell Supreme Kommander and Imperial and Saxon for some of the lesser ranks. There’s also a neo-Nazi nod — using ‘eighty-eight,’ a code for Heil, Hitler, as an affirmation.

The Kommander is a fiendishly clever man named Art Brady, who specializes in recruiting losers, violent misfits and lost, alienated souls longing for kinship and a purpose bigger than themselves. He’s a master at finding the perfect patsy to be a suicide bomber bound for the white supremacist’s version of paradise.

Brady hides in plain sight in Petit Rouge Parish, married to a black woman with a young daughter who boards a bus every weekday to attend an elementary school in the next parish. To maintain his cover, he showers money and gifts on mother and daughter and acts affectionately to both. But they’re as disposable as a used razor blade in his eyes. So is any brigade member who disobeys his orders and puts his plan in jeopardy.

It’s a race against time as Gautreaux shakes free from his shackles and starts to put the pieces together and Brady and his patsy get ready for their Armageddon.

A White Hot Plan by Mike and Ayan Rubin is available for pre-order on Amazon pending a March 14 release at: https://www.amazon.com/White-Hot-Plan-Mike-Rubin/dp/1946160970

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