cover image Slaughter Music

Slaughter Music

Russell James. Foul Play Press, $20 (285pp) ISBN 978-0-88150-333-3

As Handel's ``Water Music'' plays, gaunt killer Tim Hawk produces the corpse of a rival London mobster for the crimelord Al Kazan, his mentor, and Kazan's lovely young Ukrainian wife, Irena, at a party celebrating their recent nuptials. It's a very fine scene, almost worth enduring the author's tedious dissection of the murder preceding it. Hawk owes his career to Kazan, who has gone goofy over Irena, an unlikely mixture of stupidity and pluck. While the baroque music-loving Hawk is falling for Irena, Knox, Kazan's other muscle man, is being wooed by a rival gang, which includes the widow of the poor stiff Hawk used for his conjuring trick. While James's narrative often moves ahead briskly, sometimes its wheels spin in place. Hawk's orphaned beginnings are a yawn, Irena makes no sense at all and the gangland power plays seem to have little to do with the studied actions of the protagonists. The earlier Payback delivered more fully on its promise. (May)