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Fortunate Son


Fortunate Son

If there was justice on this side of the veil, author J.D. Rhoades would be a household name, his books on the shelves of mystery and thriller lovers everywhere. While Rhoades is known primarily for his Jack Keller series, my favorite novel of his (up until now) has been the stand-alone ICE CHEST, which is shot full from beginning to end of everything that makes crime and caper fiction great. The newly published FORTUNATE SON --- also a non-series work --- is very different from that book, but takes its place as first among equals in Rhoades’ continuously impressive bibliography.

FORTUNATE SON reminded me by turns of everything from Stephen Hunter’s DIRTY WHITE BOYS to Cormac McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, yet is as strikingly original as those titles were. The story begins in North Carolina, where 18-year-old Tyler Welch is first accosted and then abducted by a vaguely familiar stranger who calls the teen “Keith” and identifies himself as Mick Jakes, Tyler’s long-lost older brother. It develops that Mick and Keith were taken into custody by Social Services some 13 years earlier when a local sheriff named Wyatt McGee assisted on an abandoned child call. Retired in the book’s present, McGee is slowly drinking himself into oblivion over a costly error in judgment he made some years before.

"You will not stop reading FORTUNATE SON once you start. It clips along at such a pace that I was two-thirds of the way through and thought I had only just begun."

When Tyler’s adoptive father approaches McGee to help find Tyler, McGee rebuffs him at first. It initially appears that Tyler has simply decided to leave home, and being of age, there is little that can be done. Of course, McGee has no badge or authority to be of any assistance and is in no shape to do so. However, when security camera footage shows the brothers robbing a convenience store at gunpoint, McGee is compelled to act, not knowing that Tyler was forced into the act by Mick. It turns out that Mick has a plan to reunite himself and Tyler with Savannah Jakes, the mother from whom they were separated. Mick has managed to locate and make contact with Savannah via Facebook, and it looks as if the long-delayed family reunion will occur.

Savannah, though, has significant problems of her own. She is living in a downtrodden suburb in the New Orleans metropolitan area with her boyfriend, “Charleyboy,” who is deeply in debt to Mr. Luther, a local drug kingpin. Charleyboy, being clever but not smart, hatches a scheme to play Mr. Luther off against a Mexican drug lord who is seeking to establish a New Orleans foothold. Savannah has cut a deal with the DEA, hoping to get immunity for herself and reunite with her sons. Mick, with his girlfriend and Tyler in tow, makes the journey from North Carolina to New Orleans, creating his own unique brand of mayhem along the way.

McGee, learning that Savannah is in New Orleans, correctly surmises that Tyler and Mick may be traveling to see her, and journeys to New Orleans himself, with neither authority nor jurisdiction. He makes contact with a local policeman who has been assigned as a liaison with the DEA agent who is working with Savannah. Hilarity does not ensue. Everything that can possibly go wrong for everyone does so, accompanied by explosions, double-crosses, and unexpected twists and turns, not the least of which is an extended Pulp Fiction vignette on the Bayou that occurs near the novel’s conclusion and happens to contain some of its best imagery, which is saying quite a lot. Although the story doesn’t end neatly, or even entirely happily, it would be tough to find a better book to read this summer.

You will not stop reading FORTUNATE SON once you start. It clips along at such a pace that I was two-thirds of the way through and thought I had only just begun. Rhoades has a rarely equaled ability to create odd yet realistic characters on both sides of the line between good and evil, and this book is full of them. If you’re familiar with Rhoades through his Jack Keller series or his previous stand-alone efforts, you know what I’m talking about. If his work is unfamiliar to you, FORTUNATE SON is the perfect way to become acquainted.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 7, 2018

Fortunate Son
by J.D. Rhoades

  • Publication Date: August 28, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Polis Books
  • ISBN-10: 1947993100
  • ISBN-13: 9781947993105