Book Review: Rooster by John C. Foster

“With more twists and turns than a high-speed car chase through the gloomy city streets of NYC, readers may well be surprised by the revelation, but will be exhilarated by the ride.”

 

A brief look at the back catalogue of John C. Foster’s published books will reveal something interesting about his work; he excels in dark fiction, whatever the specific genre. First novel, Dead Men and its sequel Night Roads (both Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2015 and 2017 respectively) are horror stories with bleak, black hearts. Mister White (Grey Matter Press, 2016) combines a game of espionage cat-and-mouse with supernatural elements. The Isle (Grey Matter Press, 2018) is a perfect mix of horror and noir, following a murder investigation by an outsider on a strange island, dark and compelling. With the release of his latest novel, Foster steers clear of the overt horror elements to give us the story of a dangerous man, cut loose by his employers and with a bounty on his head, trying to get to the underlying truth. But, fear not, Foster fans; he puts his protagonist through hell for our entertainment. And it gets dark.

His close acquaintances know him as John Gallo. Business contacts may refer to him by any number of plausible pseudonyms. But they all fear him as Rooster, a highly efficient, extremely effective hitman who takes pride in his ability to take care of his business. Unfortunately for those who find their names on his list, his business is death. But an extended career dealing in blood can only have detrimental consequences, even for the most hard-hearted of people, and Gallo lives with unrelenting depression, not to mention a taste for alcohol. Through a first-person narrative, we are given front row seats for Gallo’s innermost thoughts, including memories from a troubled childhood and thoughts of self-harm. It really allows us to get under his skin and see the criminal underworld through his bleak point of view.

After a chance passing encounter with a beautiful woman in a restaurant run by a Chinese organised crime gang, Gallo suddenly finds himself the target of an assassination attempt. But the danger doesn’t pass when he escapes the first attack, as he soon realises every hired gun in every gang wants to collect the bounty on his head, and they won’t stop just because he puts up a fight. The mystery of who ordered the hit and why propels the main plot as Gallo spends the book shooting himself out of one tight situation, only to fall headlong into the next. He meets a motley crew of allies and low-level criminals along the way, some helpful but most simply waiting their turn to double-cross Gallo and collect the money for themselves. But our protagonist sees through almost all of these ruses, thanks to a lifetime of experience in this field of work, and a deep mistrust of almost everyone. He is a complex character, no doubt. Not simply a one-dimensional tough guy who keeps everyone and everything at arm’s length; as mentioned earlier, he suffers from serious mental health issues and they are conveyed with class and humanity.

There are intense action scenes throughout, beginning in New York City before Gallo flees to Boston where even distance doesn’t save him from the reaching grip of the kill order. Foster revels in the detailed descriptions of the violence and body trauma, but it never feels excessive. Actually, it is in keeping with the dark, noir style that is evident from page one and all the way through. It is something that is perceptible throughout much of his previous work, where it was often paired with a horror or supernatural element. With Rooster, he takes us on a tour of the murky and sinister world of assassins for hire and organised crime, femme fatales and bloody revenge. At the same time, he takes us on a tour of two locations with which he is clearly familiar in the cities of Boston and New York. Most of the book takes place in the latter, but there is still enough detail in the former to add texture to his prose. The places and people are perfectly captured by Foster, like a series of snapshots, displaying the streets and businesses, pedestrians and patrons, with which Gallo interacts. Naturally, not every scenario will be lifted directly from real-life, however he clearly uses what he observes in these places to convey a desired tone for the story, and succeeds in spades.

There is plenty within these pages to satisfy fans of dark crime fiction, from the fast-paced and often brutal action, playing out like a dark action movie on the movie screen in our minds, to the mystery at the core of the story. Who wants Gallo dead, and why? With more twists and turns than a high-speed car chase through the gloomy city streets of NYC, readers may well be surprised by the revelation, but will be exhilarated by the ride. Gallo isn’t the typical cold-hearted tough guy protagonist that most noir stories seem to have; he has depth and layers that ought to make him irredeemable, ghosts from his past that haunt him and hunt him more effectively than any hired gun. But, sharing the journey with him, dodging bullets and punches, seeking some kind of retribution, we may well find ourselves relating with the troubled and broken man beneath the killer exterior. As long as Foster is our tour guide into the murky depths of death and revenge, we know we’re in for an exciting and gratifying time.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Grey Matter Press
eBook: 194 (ps.)
Release Date: 20 July 2021

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