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Book Review: Double Kiss

Double Kiss. Darren Musial. Self-published/CreateSpace, Dec. 18, 2017, Trade Paperback and Kindle, 218 pages.

Reviewed by Marssie Mencotti.

The title of Darren Musial’s third book, Double Kiss, comes from the pool term for a cue ball that hits two balls at once. Max Deacon, Musial’s loyal and capable hero, is right at the point of the kiss as two crime families put this match into play. A nasty turf war causes the thugs to careen off of one another, and we dearly hope that each will be put away with a satisfying smack. Our pool expert Max Deacon is a man of high morals, well-equipped to handle a variety of dangerous situations: fit, fast, and firearm savvy. But a good day for him includes working out, having a few drinks with friends, and managing Dougie’s pool hall.

Max Deacon is the kind of guy that will do anything for his friends. After all, they are as close to him as his only brother, Stan, a Chicago detective. Their danger is, by extension, Max’s danger. When he accompanies his work mate Sharon on a nebulous mission to the Palmer House in downtown Chicago, his interest is piqued by some nefarious gangster types who detain him in the lobby bar. Max’s curiosity sends him off to retrieve his friend, who is on another floor conducting some kind of business.

Max finds out the next day that Sharon had been arrested for a triple murder at the Palmer House Hotel the previous night. Now the cops are looking for him as an accomplice. This is a high stakes murder, with a mob boss and his associates gunned down. Max knows Sharon had nothing to do with the murder but that she’s still keeping a secret that involves the gangsters. She eventually tells Max that she’s trying to buy her half-sister’s freedom from the gang’s drug and prostitution ring. Max cannot stand idly by. The balls are waxed, racked, and ready, and when the action begins it never stops until one way or another, Max has run the table. 

It isn’t often that we find a good guy like Max trying to make things right. He’s not a do-gooder looking for some kind of salvation through good works. He’s not a hard-boiled pessimistic detective out to crack a few skulls, nor is he an effete puzzle solver garnering kudos for his intellect. Max just knows when things are messed up and is willing to put himself on the line to make them right again. He may not be flashy or funny, but he is determined and true to his friends. Perhaps his greatest skill is his ability to think his way out of situations by doing the unexpected with only a pocket knife and his intuition.

Max is engagingly human. He is also the rarest of friends, thoughtful and kind. When a sworn enemy is in a car crash, he stops his own car to pull the thug from the burning car as he fears it will blow up. Sure, he wants them gone, but not like this. There are more instances in which he uses lesser force, or only what he feels he needs to stop the violence. He takes his licks as well as gives them, but he protects his friends at all times. He is an honest man, a regular guy with heroic abilities and little artifice.

A book with such an intimate view of Chicago—its ethnic minorities, streets and stores, and good and bad people—can only come from a native of the city. Musial’s Chicago is not hard and mean but a city that reflects both the best and the worst of its residents. An innocent-looking ethnic neighborhood of hard working laborers provides cover for the worst sort of drug and human traffickers. Behind every storefront there is a story of struggle on the right or wrong side of the law. His description of a Polish delicatessen is so good that I wanted to go get a giant ham sandwich on pumpernickel with a huge pickle. 

From angle of incidence to angle of reflection, Double Kiss is a believable thriller. Max Deacon is a good guy with a lot of violent skills, but he knows that the more violent the response, the more violent the recoil. He’s in this business not to create as much chaos as possible but to make everything smooth again with good friends, good workouts, and good pool. If he brings down a gang family or two in the attempt, so be it. This is an exciting read that builds the suspense and shares some real characters and situations with the reader, but it is also about using what skills you have to help a friend because it’s what friends do for one another, no questions asked.

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