Crush By Phoef Sutton, $15.
Phoef Sutton’s Crush doesn’t pause for a second; its title character is too busy chasing down the Russian mafia and protecting damaged damsels in distress. Caleb Rush, or Crush, as he’s known, is a badass. The bartender/bouncer/tough-guy-for-hire cuts a hulking figure who doesn’t have patience for much. When Amelia Trask, spoiled daughter of the “filthy rich, arrogant” mogul Stanley Trask, shows up at Crush’s bar asking questions, some bad guys try to toss her in their Lamborghini and she ropes Crush into a wild chase through LA. Screeching tires, removal of her top, hiding of flash drives and yacht explosions ensue.
Crush is a fast-paced crime thriller, the kind of book you get when you take out all the boring parts. This is what you want to read poolside in Vegas. Crush is cars and pyrotechnics and porn shoots, one-liners and a pouting femme fatale. Sutton’s Emmy-winning writing is on display here, and the chases, fights, explosions, characters and pacing all seem tailor-made for the screen. Crush is worth a read, though; it’s an action-packed escape. It’s grimy crime fiction that’s not too grim. Sutton mitigates the darker undertones of his book with wit and a cast of colorful characters.
Crush stands out from other works of the genre by timing its humor well. Crush, his brother Zerbe and his taekwondo master/bartender friend Gail have just enough humanity to round out scenes (necessarily) filled with henchmen. Sutton writes some nice moments of introspection between his characters. “Why lie to anybody?” Crush asks his former coworker, who replies, “I’m not as simple as you are, Crush, nobody is. People lie. They lie because they want someone to believe they’re better than they really are. They lie because while they’re lying, they can believe it, too.”
Perhaps the most surprising depth comes during a torture scene, after the bad guy tells Crush he’s going to deliver “crippling, destructive pain.” What he promises will wound Crush the most is “the hope that somehow, some way, you just might survive. Hope is the real torture.” Of course, this comes only pages after a scene involving a car bursting through the doors of a freight elevator, and moments before the hero goes skull-crushing, so it’s clear Sutton doesn’t want you to reflect for too long.