It’s 2003 and Evan Powers has finally quit his mind-numbing office job to join his roommate, former hippie and long-time friend, Nick Grady, full time in the marijuana trade. The idea is to have a relaxing, carefree existence where the days are lucrative business and the nights are good times, particularly with the beautiful and mysterious Becka, who has become much more than a friend with benefits. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan. Within days, Evan’s world rapidly spirals out of control, having grave consequences for those he cares about most.
Whiskey Devils shows how quickly a young man gets in over his head with the illicit drug trade. Zenner does an excellent job of capturing Evan’s early frustration with his seemingly pointless existence and fervent longing for a more meaningful life spent enjoying all his world has to offer. The reader not only understands but relates to Evan’s decision to chuck the 9-5 and fly under the radar. This premise draws on widely-held, deep-rooted sentiments and thus hooks the reader within just a few pages.
The characterization is also strong. The principal players come to life and are multi-dimensional, with both strengths and weaknesses. Evan, for example, almost simultaneously has delusions of grandeur and recognition of his own inadequacy. Again, this is something to which many readers can relate.
That said, language, particularly during tense conversations (of which there are several), occasionally lets the story down. Though emotions are meant to be running high, the characters often speak as if they are writing a paper. Word choices frequently seem stilted and unnatural for what is meant to be emotionally charged speech (e.g. “They’re threatening us, and yet paying us handsomely” or “I’ve thought long and hard about the best course of action”). This breaks the illusion. A similar problem exists with passive voice slowing the pace of dialog and action scenes.
Plausibility is also an issue. For example, the Russian mob was only beginning to emerge in the late 1960s, which was the height of the Soviet regime and Cold War. Given Federal vigilance concerning the USSR at the time coupled with the omnipresent fear of Communism during that period, it seems unlikely that Russian criminal elements would be able to establish the strong and longstanding foothold on U.S. soil that later becomes so pivotal to the 2003 story.
Such issues aside, Whiskey Devils is an enjoyable read with engaging and interesting characters. While the final climax may be a bit too much like an Arnold Schwarzenegger film for some readers, the plot remains entertaining and satisfying.
4 out of 5 stars