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Book Review- “Out There Bad”

I’ve read enough series crime fiction to know it’s probably really tough to write. Once you’ve penned your first crime novel where do you take your character next? Do you serve your readers up another identical adventure in your next outing? Or do you try to take you character some place different? Or do you do the extremely hard thing and let the plot develop from what’s happened to your character so far? For “Out There Bad, his second crime novel featuring ex-marine turned strip club bouncer Moses McGuire, Josh Stallings does just that and I’m so glad he did. Because it makes “Out There Bad” one of the rare sequels that’s better than the first novel. That’s not faint praise either Stallings’ first novel “Beautiful, Naked, and Dead” was a hell of a read.

When “Out There Bad” begins Moses is a changed man because of his experiences in the first novel. He’s no longer drinking or suicidal. That doesn’t mean he’s not haunted by demons though. In “Out There Bad” Moses is wrestling with an invisible monster we all struggle with, loneliness and the desire to be love. He wants to be a better man and he desperately wants to find someone to make him believe that he can become one. He believes he finds such a person when he encounters a Russian stripper who captures his heart and his imagination. Unfortunately for Moses the stripper has been enslaved by ruthless Russian mobsters.

Moses doesn’t let that stop him though. When it comes to love and relationships he’s “rescuer” type and he’s just as ruthless. I’m a rescuer type as well. So I was hooked. I knew Moses was about to get into a heap of trouble and his temper and penchant for violence was about explode. I was worried about the guy, but I rooted him on and cheered as he went to war.

So Moses enlists the aid of his friend, the Armenian bad-ass Gregor, and goes to war with an arm of the Russian mob. An early victory though turns into a crusade against one of today’s most despicable and least talked about crimes, human trafficking. Stallings tackles the problem in a realistic, powerful, and unflinching way. In that way “Out There Bad” reminded me of some of the best novels by Andrew Vacchs.

Stallings should also be applauded for incorporating a lot of new elements into “Out There Bad” and handling all them extremely well. In “Beautiful, Naked, and Dead” the author took you all over California and Vegas. In “Out There Bad” you begin things in Moses’ rough and tumble corner of Los Angeles, but Stallings expands the scope and scale of things by making them international. The book features chilling and realistic feeling depictions of Russia and Mexico as well.

The writer also does some great new work with point of view. All of “Beautiful, Naked and Dead” is told from Moses’ point of view. The bulk of “Out There Bad” is still told from Moses’ point of view, but Stallings also works in other compelling perspectives as well like that of a scared thirteen year old Russian girl and a vicious razor wielding assassin out to snuff the life of anyone who profits from the sexual exploitation of women.

Stallings takes all those elements and blends them together to serve up a rip roaring, powerful, bloody, and haunting sophomore crime novel. It’s also wrapped up in a great way where every character pays the price for their actions. Some series writers would hit the reset button at the end of their second novel, but Stallings isn’t interested in going back to the status quo and I’m glad. It made his second novel better than his stellar debut novel. I can’t wait to see where he takes Moses McGuire next.

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