The Gingerbread Houses

  The Gingerbread Houses: A Charlie Bars Thriller (The Charlie Bars Thriller Series Book 3) By Benedict J. Jones

The Gingerbread Houses is the third full length Charlie Bars thriller in this series and once again I received a digital copy compliments of Crime Waves Press in exchange for an honest review.

This round of British noir finds Charlie back at home base— the grittier side of London— once again a character in and of itself.  Mr. Jones quickly sets the scene, opening with Charlie seated in a pub—pint in one hand and book in the other.  Some time has passed since the conclusion of The Devil’s Brew and everyone is mostly healed, although Mazza is still struggling with a little PTSD from a previous violent encounter in Pennies.

Charlie and Mazza are back to work but looking for new office space. The author is not much for elaborating on regular characters or rehashing past plots but as a reader of all the Charlie Bars tales it is interesting to see how theses characters have evolved over the course of the series.

The dialog remains sharp and concise with all the usual London euphemisms.  A tale told in its usual conversational style making Charlie seem to be just your regular sort of guy…don’t be pulled into this by mistake.

Charlie is a complex character one who gains a little more depth with each subsequent outing—a man well versed in crime and violence who continues to profess a longing for a quieter life. Painting, reading, above board clients, love and family. However, circumstances always appear that drag him back down and his growing compulsion “to do the right thing” is increasingly leading him back into violence and crime.

One minute Charlie is sitting in a pub hoping for a peaceful moment with his book and his pint, the next he is approached by a former acquaintance asking for help finding information about one of Charlie’s old associates and help finding a man this potential client claims to have followed from Thailand who he believes is involved in the rape and murder of young boys.

Charlie thinks this will be an easy case and the right thing is to help get this creep off the streets, so he accepts the job. Unfortunately, or perhaps more accurately for Charlie-as per usual- not only is all not what it seems but it also turns out that his client is not the only one searching for this man.

It all becomes a complicated mess and Charlie’s choices all lead him into deeper danger and throw others into harms way as well especially after Ellie shows back up on his doorstep.

A very shady government organization who is in charge of covering up the sleazier transgressions of the higher ups is also on the trail and they are more than willing to kill to keep these secrets secret.

The dialog is sharp witty with more than a dash of humor and while dark themes abound they are not treated gratuitously there is no over the top graphic depictions of monstrous behavior or violence but make no mistake this is hard boiled noir and not for the easily squeamish. 

His accounts of violence may be short and sparse but this is by far the darkest book in the series, usually Mr. Benedict’s books feature a touch of the paranormal but here the evil is all too human.

Gingerbread Houses is the code name given to a series of locations that serve as “safe houses” for those with the money and power to indulge in sordid, inhumane and violent predilections—things that they will do anything to keep secret—a fact that is made abundantly clear to both Charlie and his client, all to soon.

I am happy to see that Ellie is back. I was also intrigued by the addition of the mysterious Hilda—a powerful semi-retired government fixer. While Mr. Jones seems to have a talent for creating fascinating powerful women on both sides of the law it also seems a waste that he often relegates these fab creations to the sidelines making them seem more plotting device than characters. They deserve much more.

My hope is that he is leaving bread crumbs (couldn’t resist the Hansel & Gretel moment) a trail to future stories.  As I said in my review of The Devil’s Brew Ellie is a fascinatingly good creation, and he teases us with even more of a hidden deeper side to Ellie here— so I continue to hope to see much more. Fair warning though—life with Charlie is not for the faint of heart.

Mr. Jones also introduces several side stories and italicized interludes that both give glimpses into the Gingerbread House past and into the violence and crime of Charlie’s own past.

This round left me with more unanswered questions than usual and a few semi plot holes.  By now I am used to “the case details” playing second fiddle to Charlie’s travails but I feel there is still some explaining left on the table. Kudos, that this is done in a way that makes me want more not less of Charlie Constantinou—so keep writing Benedict J. Jones.

If I have a quibble and it is very hard to take issue with a book and an author who continues to keep me on the edge of my seat swiping pages as fast as I can read here it is…

I felt at times the “dues ex machina” was impossible to ignore— that key characters are too conveniently awol, and IMO the behind the scene resolution is a bit tidy for the end of a Charlie Bar’s thrill ride.

 

Charlie might have had that denouement coming but one gets the sense it might be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. This was reading time well spent and I am already looking forward to the next installment.


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Hi! I'm Debbie. Here at Categorically Well-Read I give an extra layer to the reading life. Learn more about me, check out my current category of books, submit your own suggestion, or check out my latest post.