Gina's testimony imprisoned her ex-husband Joey Cicala for life. Now she and her ten-year-old son Luke are in the witness protection program in Brady, Oklahoma. A traitorous U.S. marshal, Frank terHorst, is determined to kill Gina and take the diamonds she's stolen from Joey. TerHorst has enlisted the help of uncouth, redneck hit men, Mac Lingo and his sons Ronnie and Steve. New York City mobster, Pat the Cat Cicala, also wants Gina dead. He enlists the help of the System, which hires two ruthless, sophisticated European hit men, Markus Groh and Dima Bulgakov. A bloodbath ensues as the contract killers surround Gina. Her only salvation lies with a mysterious drifter, Gray, who claims he was once a sailor.
Bullets fly and blood flows freely in Tom Epperson's brilliant, ultraviolent California noir, "Sailor." Action thrillers don't get much better than this one. Along with cruel, sadistic violence, there is plenty of mystery, drama, suspense, romance and humor. A cute, neglected boy and an ugly, abused dog are thrown in for good measure. The main mystery concerns the identity of Gray, the stranger who protects Gina and Luke. Who is he? Everything he tells Gina about his background is a lie. The reader doesn't begin to learn his true history (an extremely violent, depressing one) until over half-way through the novel. Gray's true identity (and why he refers to himself as a sailor) is gradually, and shockingly, learned piece by piece.
In my opinion, there is nothing more romantic than a handsome man protecting a beautiful woman from being killed by a relentless assassin. I thought Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton of "The Terminator" (The Terminator [Blu-ray Book]) were at their sexiest when they were being pursued by Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg. Coincidentally, in "Eraser" (Eraser [Blu-ray]), Schwarzenegger portrayed a U.S. marshal who was protecting Vanessa Williams from a rogue agent and his team of professional hit men. This film had the potential to be extremely sensual; alas, if only Schwarzenegger and Williams had made love in front of that cabin's fireplace.
In "Sailor," Gina and Gray have great chemistry. They, along with Luke and the ugly dog, become a family in peril. A loving person with a painful background, Gray will do anything, no matter how risky, in order to protect Gina and Luke. Also, in one of the novel's many subplots, there is some romance between terHorst's pudgy daughter Dee and the man in a black ski mask, DeWitt Smith, who is holding her captive while Groh and Bulgakov join forces with terHorst and the Lingos.
The sun-dappled, tourist paradise of Southern California and blazing, out-of-control brush fires provide the background for this fast-paced, high body count noir that is nearly impossible to put down. (Four people are brutally slain within the first thirty pages.) There are some gruesome scenes, especially those involving war-torn Kangari, that are not for the squeamish. Also, the overgrown, country hick Lingo brothers tell some racist jokes that might offend African-American readers. Some devout Christians might also be offended by the Bible-quoting terHorst who warns of God's coming judgment while brutally slaying innocent bystanders. A vile villain, Frank terHorst is the ultimate hypocrite.
Shocking, gruesome violence permeates Tom Epperson's "Sailor" from beginning to end. No one appears safe. The tension grows unbearable as the lives of all characters, both good and bad, are jeopardized. TerHorst was experiencing minor heart attacks throughout the novel and I thought I'd have one too as the violence intensified towards the end and the shocks appeared to be never ending. This is one bloody crime noir that fans will not want to miss. Furthermore, the ending is a highly emotional one that will pluck at the reader's heartstrings for a long time.
Joseph B. Hoyos