May 1957. Baby Shark—a former pool hustler turned Texas private eye—is backup in a ransom deal. Her partner, Otis Millett, is the front man in the cash for girl exchange they were hired to do by a powerful Texas bootlegger. His mistress found trouble in Oklahoma that ended with a ransom demand. It is planned to be a simple deal, but Baby finds trouble in the parking lot of the seedy tavern where the switch is to take place and when she ducks it she finds Otis inside taking a beating from a couple heavies.
Baby is quick on her feet and it doesn’t take long for her figure the deal and wedge it open, but it is only the beginning. Otis is certain they were betrayed, but the real question is why. And when thugs and hired guns keep coming at them they decide they need to figure the scam, and quickly, if they’re going to stay upright.
Baby Shark’s High Plains Redemption was a major surprise, and a good one at that. It opens running hard and Mr. Fate not only keeps the pace up, but actually shifts it into a higher gear as the climax approaches. To use a cliché, the pace is unrelenting—the body’s pile-up around the protagonist nearly as quickly as the pages turn and the action scenes are perfectly developed with a sparse noir style:
“‘Who dies first?’ I said, and stopped about a dozen feet away from them. Even a bad shot could kill at that distance, and they both knew it. My hands were steady. They could see that, too.”
The plot is very nearly pitch-perfect as it takes the action and reader across the sprawl of Texas and Oklahoma. The characters are neatly defined and uniquely developed with a seemingly simple style and limited backstory; enough background to develop the characters without slowing the story. The major players—Baby and Millett—are cast in a dark filament glow that paints them somewhere between villain and hero. And smartly gives them foibles, weaknesses and more than a few strengths. They are both very much worth rooting for.
The overall tone and style of the novel has the feel of an old black and white film mixed with the ultra-violent sentimentality of modern noir. The subject matter is far from unique, but Mr. Fate gives it a fresh and invigorating narrative that amps it past the average crime thriller. Baby Shark’s High Plains Redemption should be high on every crime reader’s list for the simple reason that it is damn good.
Note. Baby Shark’s High Plains Redemption is the third novel to feature Baby Shark—real name Kristin Van Djik—and the third novel written by Robert Fate. The first two are: Baby Shark and Baby Shark’s Beaumont Blues.