BY: ALAN BRENHAM
The stakes soar, both professionally and personally, for Austin PD Detective Jason Scarsdale as he finds himself in a race against time to hunt down a vicious gang hell-bent on murder. Realizing that his new partner, the attractive divorcee Tatum Harper, could be trouble in more ways than one, he tries to run her out of Homicide. Will their partnership destroy his romantic relationship with long-time girlfriend Dani Mueller? Will they both survive the harrowing face-off with the increasingly unhinged gang leader?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Rampage by Alan Brenham, Jason Scarsdale is back, this time trying to track a serial killer and his gang, who are fulfilling a vendetta and leaving bodies in their wake. Scarsdale has a new rookie partner, attractive redhead, Tatum Harper, who is divorced from her jealous husband and very tempting for Scarsdale, as he is in a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend Dani who lives in Germany.
Rampage is a story that is multi-layered with several subplots and the book appeals on all levels. I especially liked the fact that the story focused on so many aspects of the characters’ lives. This gives the book a ring of truth that is missing in a lot of mysteries and crime thrillers today.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Rampage by Alan Brenham is another Austin Police Department Detective Jason Scarsdale novel, and like the first one, Price of Justice, this one is a crime thriller of the first order. This time, Jason is breaking in a new partner, a rookie female, who is attractive, divorced, and attracted to Jason. But Jason is going with Dani, who still lives in Germany, so he tries to stay focused on tracking down a serial killer on a mission to repay favors to an old prison buddy. It’s not easy to do—tracking the killer, or staying true to Dani—especially when she seems less responsive to Jason with each passing day. Meanwhile, Jason’s life is in danger as someone takes pot shots at him and his young daughter, Shannon. But is it a new enemy, or an old one?
Rampage has a good, solid plot, a number of intriguing subplots, plenty of action, and enough tension and suspense to keep you turning pages from beginning to end.
Headlights pierced the late night blackness and lit the twin hedgerows that marked the entrance to the Heavenly Garden Memorial Park, the oldest cemetery in Austin. The car made a right and crept past rows of dark headstones, some dating back to the Texas war of independence.
Shadows danced strangely amongst the graves and the few trees shifted like hazy figures slinking away from the car’s high beams. The crunch of tires on gravel broke the silence until the car pulled to a stop, and the quiet descended again.
“How long ya gonna be?” asked the guy with the long blond dreadlocks riding in the front passenger seat. He swallowed hard as his head turned like a hoot owl, studying each shadow as if he expected a demon or some other phantom to leap out.
“Long as it takes,” replied the driver, a thick-shouldered guy in his late twenties. His hand cruised over his burr haircut as he gazed in the direction of a cluster of headstones.
“This is too spooky,” the long-haired guy said in a tone barely above a whisper. His eyes locked on a shadow about ten yards off to the left. “Somebody’s over there.” Panic sounded in his voice as he pointed toward the center of the graveyard.
The driver looked where the guy pointed then laughed at him. “Aww, shut up, ya pussy. It ain’t nuthin.”
The driver got out and stood for a long moment, clenching and unclenching his fists as he surveyed the grounds. He pointed at the sledgehammer propped against the console. “Gimme that.”
The guy picked it up and slid it across the seat, hammer end first.
The driver yanked it out and swung it up on his shoulder. “Holler if ya see anyone comin’.”
He took one last drag off his cigarette and ground it into the gravel. A minute later he stopped in front of a large granite headstone bearing the name Roy James Becker. It took four days and four cemeteries before he’d found the right tombstone.
The name and the bronzed police badge in the upper left corner of the 3-foot high marker brought back images of the prison day room with its drab gray metal tables and benches bolted to the floor. It’s where he got his first lesson on how things really worked inside the prison walls.
It was in that room that he almost got his ass stomped by a trio of Texas Syndicate members for changing the channel on the TV. He would have, too, if a hulking white convict known as Snake, hadn’t stepped forward and almost started a riot. He owed Snake a lot, including his Mad Dog moniker, and would make good on every promise he had made to the man. And right here, right now, would be the first one. The second one would come later tonight.
He raised the sledgehammer off his shoulder, cocked it back, and gritted his teeth. The muscles in his meaty forearms bulged as the sledge flew in a wide arc. A loud bang broke the silence when the sledge struck the tombstone’s left side. He reared back and swung it at the marker again and again. A larger chunk broke off.
He hammered on the tombstone until all that remained was a jagged stone marker standing less than a foot off the ground. Not finished, he hovered over the pieces and began pulverizing them.
Propping the sledgehammer against his leg, he unzipped his fly. “Snake sends his regards.”
A stream of urine splattered against the broken headstone then drenched the grave itself.
He grunted, forcing out the last bit of pee before he zipped up. Then he spit on the jagged remains. Not one of those little dots of sputum but rather one thick glob that stuck to the police officer’s headstone like jelly.
“Rot in hell, you sorry prick,” he said, walking back to the car. He handed the sledge back to the long hair on the front seat and sunk down behind the wheel.
The driver had met the longhaired guy at one of the 6th Street bars–the Silver Dragon–about two weeks ago. His first night out of prison. He’d given the longhair the nickname of Rastaman because of his long blond dreadlocks. The guy acted kinda weird but not any more so than a few of the cons inside the walls.
He and Rastaman had done a bunch of drinking and a little weed while scoping out the college split-tails roaming 6th Street. The only thing that bothered him about Rastaman was the dude’s goofy laugh.
When a couple of women had stopped to chat with them, Rastaman wouldn’t say anything to them. He just brayed like a jackass at everything they said. Like it was friggin funny. They backed away as if he had some contagious disease. He’d totally creeped them out–and they were right, Mad Dog silently agreed. The guy was freaky. But the dude liked beer, weed and wanted to make some money no matter how. That’s all that mattered.
“I don’t friggin’ believe you, dude,” said Rastaman, making his weird laugh. “Pissin’ on that grave.”
“Too bad I couldn’t take a dump on it.”
“Why did you do it?” asked the young male seated in the back.
Mad Dog gazed over the top of the seat at the young guy. “’Cause I could and ’cause I done promised payback for Snake. Comprende?”
“Who’s Snake?” asked the young male.
“My cellmate, bud. The guy sleepin’ in the bottom rack.”
“I didn’t know you did time. What for?”
Mad Dog glanced at Rastaman, snickered, and pulled the shifter into first gear.
“Drugs. Cops caught him with five hundred pounds of weed and six kilos of heroin.” Rastaman grinned at Mad Dog then peered over his shoulder at the young male. “Just kiddin’.”
“Robbery,” said a straight-faced Mad Dog. “The cops planted some drugs.”
“What was Snake in for?” the young male asked.
Mad Dog glanced in the rear view mirror at him. “He done ripped a dude’s head off who asked too many fuckin questions.”
The young guy shut his mouth and gazed out the side window. He thought about the first time he’d ever met Mad Dog. The Smokin Chimney Tavern on 6th Street four nights ago. The two of them had hit it off or at least that’s what he thought at the time. Mad Dog had come across as kind of a big brother, a friend. They’d even broke bread together a day later at the Oakcrest Diner, a place where Mad Dog worked. Mad Dog had come out from the kitchen, wearing a butcher’s apron splotched with blood, and sat with him.
Afterward, they’d hung out together, getting drunk, high, and cruising down country roads, knocking over mailboxes with a baseball bat. That’s when he met the jerk Rastaman. He had taken an instant dislike to him, his nose ring and his scroungy-looking dreadlocks.
Mad Dog taught him how to shoplift a few things from a convenience store. At first he worried about getting caught. By the third time, he liked it. Beating the magnetic sensor at the door gave him a thrill. He graduated to acting as a look-out while Mad Dog and Rastaman strong-armed a liquor store clerk into letting them steal a few six-packs of beer. The more they did together, the more he enjoyed it. Belonging to a group, having a friend, being part of the action made him feel less an outcast.
The money Mad Dog gave him from the jobs paid a couple of bills. A lot of upside for him.
Mad Dog studied the young guy in the mirror. The kid was an easy mark. Dumber than dirt. Didn’t really know how the world worked but he was learning. He’d acted kinda like the kid when he first arrived inside the walls. A year after going inside, he’d felt sorry for a short guy in the next cellblock–a runt the other cons had nicknamed Midget. The little guy went into fight mode whenever anyone called him that. But, hey, what the hell, everybody inside the walls had a nickname. Nobody dared call anyone by their real name.
Other cons had picked on Midget, forcing him to fight them every day. Midget had won a few, lost a few, ’til he finally earned some respect. The young guy in the back seat reminded him of Midget so he gave him the moniker of Runt and took him under his wing, just like Snake did for him.
Mad Dog reached his hand back and gave Runt’s head a playful shove. “I’m just havin’ a li’l fun with ya, Runt. Lighten up. If I didn’t like ya, you wouldn’t even be here. Comprende?”
Runt kept looking out the window, a smile slowly breaking on his face. “Yeah, I comprende.”
The car turned south out of the cemetery in the direction of downtown Austin. Mad Dog peered in the mirror at Runt. “Ya ready to do this next job?”
Minutes later, the car veered off Burnet Road into a strip center’s parking lot. Mad Dog killed the lights then backed the Mercury sedan into a darkened spot directly across from Bob’s Video Arcade. This spot gave him a vantage point from which he watched teenagers come and go for the better part of a half-hour.
Mad Dog laid the Ruger P89 in his lap and caressed it like a favored pet. He watched two more kids enter the arcade and mill around one game machine. Then some lanky kid from the Chinese restaurant next door went in. An old man with a bald head ringed by a horseshoe of snow-white hair rearranged some objects on the counter.
“We’re not gonna hurt ’em, are we?” Runt asked.
“We’re not gonna hurt ’em, are we?” Rastaman said in a mocking tone. He brayed as if his comment was the funniest thing ever said.
Mad Dog slapped him on the side of his head. “Shut up.” He laid his arm across the top of the passenger seat and glanced at Runt. “See that?” he said, tapping the large blue tattoo of a vicious Pit Bull covering his bicep. “Got that when I was inside. Ya know what it means?”
“Means anybody who screws with me dies. Ya kill to live and ya live to kill. It’s the way things are.” He saw the apprehension in Runt’s eyes. The could-he-actually-do-this look. The same apprehension Mad Dog had right before he buried a shank in the back of one of his tormentors in prison. “Think of it as a game. Them kids in there, that old man, they wanna curry favor with the cops. Us, we gotta keep ’em from saying a word. A game we gotta win. Comprende?”
Runt looked in the direction of the arcade. “None of those kids’ll screw with us.”
“Better not,” Mad Dog said, looking in the same direction. “’Cause anybody that gets in the way is dead.” He checked the Ruger again. “Witnesses is who done Snake in. Trust me.”
“I understand about witnesses, but those kids are just playing the games. They’re not hurting anybody.”
Mad Dog changed position so he faced Runt. He had to make him understand how the game worked. “I don’t give a shit if they’re playing grab-ass. You got our backs. I’m relying on you. They so much as open their damn mouths or eyeball us, they’re maggot food.” He reached back and patted the guy on the cheek. “Ya got that gun?”
The young guy held it up. “I got it.”
Mad Dog faced front and scanned Burnet Road in both directions for cops.
Rastaman brushed one of the curls of his dreadlocks off his face. “When we gonna hit the joint?”
Mad Dog checked the dashboard clock when the two kids left and headed toward the next street down. 11:52PM. “A coupla more minutes.” He locked his eyes on the old man. “When we go in, remember, no names.”
As he stared at the old man, his thoughts drifted back to his last day inside the walls. Even now, Snake’s last words to him, when he left, echoed in his head: Get me some justice.
“See that old fart behind the counter?” Mad Dog said.
Rastaman leaned forward and looked. “Yeah?”
“He’s all mine.” Mad Dog stuffed the Ruger in his waistband. “Let’s do it.”
“Shouldn’t we be wearing masks or something?” Runt asked.
Mad Dog got out without saying a word and adjusted the pistol’s position in the small of his back before pulling the bottom of his jacket over the gun. He scanned Burnet Road one more time, saw no sign of cops, and leaned inside the car. “C’mon.”
Rastaman and Runt got out at the same time. Rastaman massaged his scraggly beard as he peered over the car’s roof at the arcade. Runt could barely see over the top of the car. The three of them marched single file toward the arcade with Mad Dog in the lead. He stopped when they reached the sidewalk that ran along the front of the strip.
“I’ll come straight at him.” he said to Rastaman. “You circle around the counter and come at him from that way.”
Mad Dog curled his arm around Runt’s neck. “Make sure that kid don’t reach for his phone and keep a look-out for anybody coming. You see any cops, you holler.”
Mad Dog pushed the glass door open and strolled inside, followed close behind by the other two. He gave the interior a fast scrutiny. It was a typical arcade. Video game machines lined three walls. Several video shooting games and one claw-grabber machine occupied the middle of the room. A bill changer occupied space against the back wall. Next to it stood a soda machine. A restroom sign dangled from the ceiling near the bill changer.
The owner, an older man with a slight paunch, smiled at them. “I’m going to be closing in five minutes, guys.”
“Yeah, right.” Mad Dog ambled over to a Sub Hunter game. Five minutes is all I need. He cast a quick glance at Rastaman and nodded for him to come over. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the lanky teenager head for the front door. Runt followed him.
“Slant-eyed prick,” Mad Dog muttered to himself, pretending to be interested in the game.
After the kid left, he and Rastaman slipped on gloves. He glanced at Runt before giving a head nod to Rastaman in the direction of the old man. Mad Dog arrived first, pulled the Ruger from his waist and aimed it at the old man. “Wassup?”
The old man’s eyes opened wide as soon as he saw the gun. “What–” He raised his hands up. “Take whatever you want. Don’t shoot me.”
“Open the damn cash drawer,” Mad Dog snarled. He jacked the Ruger’s slide back and released it. The slide clicked as it sprang back, chambering a cartridge. “Now.”
The owner’s eyes darted from the gun to the register. Moving slowly, he reached over to the register and turned the key. The cash drawer slid open.
Rastaman zipped in behind the counter. He shoved the old man, knocking him down. “Git outta my way.” Taking a plastic Walmart bag from his pants pocket, he cleaned out the cash drawer.
Mad Dog stretched over the counter, resting his arms on the glass top. “Where’s the mothafuckin’ safe?”
The old man didn’t answer.
“Show me the goddam safe.”
“There,” he said, pointing to a gray metal box under the counter.
Rastaman grabbed the old man’s arm and jerked him over to the safe. He pressed the pistol barrel into the side of the old man’s head. “Open it.”
The old man knelt down and shot a glance at Mad Dog then over his shoulder at Rastaman. He reached under the counter. “It’ll take me a minute.” He swung around with a revolver in his hand. “I should have–”
Rastaman grabbed the barrel and twisted.
A loud pop.
The old man screamed, grabbed at his leg and fell. Blood blossomed through his khaki pants and dripped on the green carpet.
Rastaman kicked the revolver away.
Mad Dog sneered at the man. “Still gotta play hero, huh?”
Rastaman jammed his pistol under the man’s eye and cocked the hammer back. “You got two seconds to git your ass off that goddam floor and open that safe.”
The old man held his hand up in front of his face as if it would stop a bullet. “Please. I can’t get up.”
A car turned into the parking lot, its headlights shined through the window.
Runt yelled at them. “Hey. I think somebody’s coming.”
Rastaman lowered his gun and looked out the window.
“Is it the cops?” Mad Dog asked, keeping his eyes on the old man.
“No, just somebody cruising by.”
“Keep watchin’.” Mad Dog aimed his Ruger at the old man’s chest. “Ya wanna die?”
“What’s the combination?”
“You’re stallin’.” He waved at Rastaman. “Move.” Mad Dog vaulted over the counter. He grabbed the old man by the ear, yanked him up, and jammed the Ruger into his eye. “You best tell me the combination, you sorry ol’ bastard.”
“It’s not locked.”
“Open it then.”
The safe door creaked as the old man pulled it open.
Mad Dog shoved him to the floor.
Rastaman stuffed his pistol in his waistband. He stuck his hand inside and swept the entire contents of the safe–papers, currency, and rolled change–into the Walmart bag. “Got it all. You ready?”
“Not yet.” Mad Dog stood there, staring at the owner and chewing on his lower lip for a couple of seconds. He raised the Ruger and aimed it right at the old man’s face. “Ya remember Snake?” Mad Dog grinned as the old man shook his head. “Sorry. Maybe ya remember him better as Peter Cumberland?”
The old man’s Adams apple bobbed.
“Ya just had to be the hero and call the cops on him. Had to testify too. Couldn’t keep your damn mouth shut, huh, old man?” He cocked the hammer back.
“No, please don’t.”
“Snake sends his regards.” He fired two rounds then stuffed the gun back into his waist. Taking out a pocketknife, he bent over the old man’s face. Seconds later, he got to his feet and gazed at the old man’s forehead, silently admiring his handiwork. Another promise to Snake was fulfilled.
He stepped back then vaulted over the counter.
Rastaman held the door open. “Do ya wanna hit those machines too?”
Mad Dog glanced at a cluster of video machines to his left. “Ain’t no money in ’em. It’s all tokens.”
“How’s about that bill changer?”
Mad Dog snapped his fingers then held out his hand. “No time. Now gimme the bag. Somebody may have heard the shots.”
Rastaman frowned and handed it to him.
“Where’d that little shit go?”
“Out to the car.”
“Not him,” Mad Dog said. “That slant-eye that was in here playin’.”
As soon as Mad Dog got in the car, he turned to Runt in the backseat. “Where’d that punk-ass kid go?”
Mad Dog pounded his fist on the top of the seat. “Goddammit. I told you to kill him.” He glared at Runt.
Rastaman shook his head. A single snarky chuckle. “Told ya he’s a pansy-ass. Let’s do him now.”
“Screw you,” Runt shot back.
“Ya’ll shut the hell up,” Mad Dog yelled. “Nobody’s doing anybody.”
Runt scowled at Rastaman then looked at Mad Dog. “You said kill him if he said anything. He didn’t.”
“He saw our faces, ya dumb shit.” Mad Dog faced front, tightened his mouth in a frown. “You better hope that slant-eyed bastard doesn’t go to the cops.”
“He didn’t see us. He was too into that game. He up and left as soon as it was over.”
Mad Dog didn’t say another word. He turned around and put the car in gear. Maybe he’s right. That kid couldn’t have seen either of us ’cause we were on the other side of those machines. And he did leave right away. Besides if he’d figured out what was going down, the cops would’ve been here by now.
“The next time I tell ya to take somebody out, do it or I’ll let Rastaman whip the dogshit outta ya. Comprende?
“Rastaman? Ha!” Runt snapped back. “So why did you kill that old man?”
“Gotta teach some assholes a lesson, that’s why? Don’t worry ’bout it?”
Mad Dog drove north to Highway 183 then south to Springdale Road. At his rate of speed, it took them less than ten minutes to reach his farmhouse. The centerpiece of the small farm was an old pier and beam frame home badly in need of a paint job. He parked behind it. A corrugated metal barn stood about fifty yards away.
Mad Dog went through the front door first carrying the bag of money. Runt was last in. He tugged on the door, but foundation problems kept it from shutting completely.
“Where’s that little sugar britches you keep talking about?” Rastaman asked, peeking around the corner of the kitchen. A GE refrigerator with brown spots sprinkled all over the door sat at one end of a white countertop. A single sink filled with dirty forks and spoons occupied the other end. Crusted food stains dotted the counter. A four-burner stove took up space opposite the sink.
“Ain’t here.” Mad Dog plodded across a wood plank floor with a well-worn path on it. He passed a dark brown faux leather sofa that had several tears in the cushions. He stopped at a wood table, shoved two plates and a set of salt and pepper shakers to the other side, then dumped the contents of the Walmart bag on it. “Beer’s in the frig.”
“When am I gonna meet her?” Rastaman asked, pulling the refrigerator door open and taking out a can of Miller.
“Don’t worry about her,” Mad Dog said, a slight growl in his throat. “Comprende?”
Rastaman nodded. “Yeah. No problem, dude.” He popped the top and guzzled.
Two calico cats moved cautiously out from under the sofa and trotted across the floor to where Mad Dog sat. They rubbed up against his legs, purring, their tails pointed straight up like flagpoles.
Mad Dog counted out that night’s take into three stacks. $170 for each. “Come git your money.”
He pocketed his share before ambling into the kitchen with both cats following close behind. He poured a couple handfuls of kibble into two bowls on the floor. Both cats went for the same bowl. One cat growled and swatted at the other. Then the other one hissed. “Okay, guys. No need to fight. Ya’ll got the same amount of food.” He pushed the second bowl to opposite corner and one cat along with it.
“What’s it like in prison?” Runt asked, wiping the perspiration off a can of cold beer.
Mad Dog looked at him then snorted. “Like a frickin’ picnic. Women comin’ in for conjugals. Beer served at dinner. Ya can even get on the waitin’ list to screw the warden’s daughter.”
“Really?” Runt asked, wide-eyed.
Mad Dog looked at him, winked, and clucked his tongue.
It took Runt a moment to catch on to the joke. “No way. You’re bullshitting me.”
Mad Dog nodded. “You’re getting’ better, kid.” He closed up the cat food bag and pushed it to the back of the counter. “It’s a hell-hole. Ya gotta follow the convict code or ya get your ass handed to ya.”
“And that’s in the handbook the prison gives out?”
“That thing’s bullshit. It’s nothin’.” He opened the fridge and took out two beers. “If ya want to survive, ya gotta get with the program, the convict code. Ya pick it up as ya go along. Gotta be a stand-up guy. Keep your head down. No snitchin’ to the bosses.” He peeled the metal top back on one and guzzled some beer, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Ya mind your own business; don’t come across as a wimp. Ya stay with your own kind and do your time. If there’s a fight, ya fight. Don’t friggin’ matter if it’s over a TV channel or a candy bar. You fight the other inmate cause if ya don’t, if ya back down, you’ll be known as a punk.”
“Punk? You mean like a wimp?”
“Yeah. Kinda like you when I first met ya.” He sauntered past on his way to the living room, leaving Runt standing there, his jaw slack.
He stopped a few feet away, took another swallow. “If ya go down, ya better know how to stand up for yourself. If ya don’t, you’ll end up bein somebody’s bitch.”
Mad Dog went to the living room. When he got to the sofa, he’d finished the first one. He crumpled it in his hand and flicked it in the corner. He popped the top of the second beer and collapsed on the sofa next to Rastaman. His boots clunked on the wobbly coffee table.
“Did ya’ll see the look on that old man’s face right before I popped him?” Mad Dog laughed out loud. “If I’d yelled boo, he’d have shit all over himself.” He took a long drink of beer. One of the cats leaped into his lap, curled up, and licked its paws.
Rastaman waved his share of the arcade take. “A lotta work for just a hundred and seventy dollars. We should have hit that bill changer. Bet there was few hundred in it.”
“Don’t worry ’bout it.” Mad Dog gulped down more beer while stroking the cat’s fur. “Next time we’re gonna hit a place that’s got a helluva lot more.”
“I’ll let ya know.”
“You gonna take him along?” Rastaman gave a chin nod at Runt. “He ain’t worth a shit.”
Mad Dog eyed Runt seated across from him in a ratty threadbare lounge chair. The other calico lay belly up in his lap, seemingly enjoying a belly-scratch. “Put the cat down. I don’t like anyone messin’ with them.” He glanced at Rastaman then raised the beer can up to his mouth. “He’s goin’ with us ’til I ain’t got no more use for him.”
© 2015 by Alan Brenham
Midwest Book Review:
This Jason Scarsdale thriller sports a brooding cover of three threatening, hooded figures and a promise of chaos and confrontation which doesn’t disappoint in an introductory chapter that opens with the blows of a sledgehammer to a tombstone and just keeps knocking out hits. Murder and robbery take place from the beginning, which draws in readers with violence and questions in a harsh world juxtaposed by Detective Scarsdale’s family life in Chapter 2, where he’s getting his daughter ready for school. These kinds of juxtapositions (extreme confrontation, then interludes of relative peace) enhance the story line with a give-and-take tidal feel that takes its time to present characters, outline situations, then falls back to allow for reflection and insight.
So many thrillers and detective stories abandon this more methodical pursuit in favor of the ‘staccato approach’ that is nonstop in its delivery, and while some readers might prefer that method, Rampage is a good example of the attributes and superior approach of taking time to develop a story in a manner that mirrors the realism of life. The world doesn’t operate in a nonstop action manner. There are pauses and events which are less dramatic and equally insightful, and these are key to presenting a story line that’s realistic and involving. Here they serve Rampage well as the complexities of revenge, murder, family life, a slowly-evolving relationship, and more assume a feel that can only be described as compellingly pragmatic. Mystery and detective story enthusiasts will thus find Rampage more than a cut above the ordinary, mirroring life’s ebbs and flows with a story line that appeals on many levels, from personal relationships to professional challenges, murder and mayhem to complex resolutions. All this makes it highly recommended.
In Brenham’s latest thriller, cops in Austin, Texas, face off against a former convict on a vengeance-driven, murderous crime spree. Despite the author’s choice to expose the villains’ perspectives, Brenham still injects some mystery into the plot. The real names of Mad Dog’s henchmen, for example, are initially unknown, so readers aren’t sure when Scarsdale and Harper are questioning a guilty party. There’s likewise a baddie included who may have ties to one of Scarsdale’s previous cases and a preceding book, Price of Justice (2013). The story relies mostly on a solid amount of suspense; the cops are fairly certain who the killers are before the halfway point, and their lives may be in danger when Scarsdale gets to be too much of a “real pain in the ass” for Mad Dog. Outside the investigation, Brenham keeps things lively and constantly moving with surprisingly strong drama. Possible stirrings between the partners, for one, are impossible to ignore: Scarsdale’s long-distance girlfriend, Dani, is apparently angry over his boss’s demand that he stay on the case and forgo plans for a Germany visit, while Harper’s jealous ex-hubby, Preston, simply assumes that the two partners are having sex. Even Mad Dog gets in on the melodramatic action when he’s worried that girlfriend Maggie has run off and either Rastaman or Runt is hiding her somewhere. Brenham rounds out the novel with a car chase, a kidnapping or two, and more than one murder that has less to do with retribution for Snake and more with an increasingly unhinged Mad Dog. Precise and unequivocally gripping; an edge-of-your-seat ride from beginning to end. READ FULL REVIEW
The Bottom Line: Another remarkable entry in the Jason Scarsdale series. This gritty crime thriller is an absolute gift to fans of the genre. Austin detective Jason Scarsdale returns in this tale of murder, Texas style. This time, we find Scarsdale – whom Brenham established as a character deserving of our sympathy in his searing crime thriller The Price of Justice – investigating a murder at a video arcade. Scarsdale’s new partner, Detective Tatum Harper, is by far the best looking one he’s ever had. Still, he doesn’t like the idea of working with a woman. It’s not just that he’s sexist (he is). It’s also that he’s about to pop the question to the love of his life, Dani (who also appears in an earlier book). Sensing Harper could be trouble in more ways than one, he decides to run her out of Homicide. He figures it will take him a week, tops. Enter Recently released convict Justin Cooper, AKA Mad Dog. For him, prison clearly hasn’t been a time of rehabilitation. He returns to the family restaurant owned by his mother and father, but he soon has blood on his hands.
Sure, Rampage is about solving an intriguing set of crimes, and the journey is a satisfying one for anyone who loves police procedurals. But far more intense is the dynamic between Scarsdale and Harper, a man and woman working long, tense hours together, and its fallout for those around them. The awkwardness when they run into Harper’s ex-husband is nothing short of delicious. The scene when he finally surrenders to his desires is a masterpiece – deserving of an award for Best Spontaneous Intimacy within a Law Enforcement Setting. READ FULL REVIEW
Susan Keefe, Reviewer:
Superb, another masterpiece from Alan Brenham—5 stars
Set in Austin, Texas, this story begins with Justin Wayne Cooper a.k.a. Mad Dog, repaying a debt by destroying a grave in the Heavenly Garden Memorial Park. Waiting in the car are Rastaman, and Runt. Fresh out of prison Mad Dog is on a mission to right some wrongs done to Snake, his cellmate. Impressed by his prison tales and hardness, the other two have become willing accomplices. At first it’s all a game, a good laugh, an opportunity to get some ready cash, but then the stakes get higher, and when the killings begin, they suddenly realize how Justin got his nickname…
In Alan Brenham’s first book, Price of Justice, we met widower, Detective Jason Scarsdale, his daughter Shannon and Dani Mueller. After the events in that book ex Austin PD Crime Analyst Dani moved back home to her family in Garmisch, Germany. However, three years on, Jason and Dani still have a very strong transcontinental relationship, and very soon Shannon and Jason are due to visit Dani and celebrate Shannon’s birthday at the same time. However the holiday isn’t here yet and arriving at work, Jason, who has transferred back to Homicide from the Sex Crimes division, is called into his superior’s office and informed by Sargent Kipfer, that he has a new partner, a very attractive divorcee called Tatum Harper. Soon a reluctant Jason, and his new chatty and very keen partner are trying to discover who the reckless killers are, and what links the crimes together. Whilst in the background, Jason’s relationship with Dani has taken a strange turn which gives the story an intriguing subplot. Despite the clues and evidence coming together, nothing will stick, the death toll is rising. Who is the mysterious MD?
If you like reading crime thrillers then you will love Rampage. They say write about what you know and this action-packed plot has been very cleverly written, and has the great attention to detail I have come to expect from Alan Brenham. With his lifetimes experience as a Texas law enforcement officer, criminal prosecutor and defense attorney, the author’s in-depth knowledge, and understanding in these fields enables him to take his lucky readers on an unforgettable journey into the dark criminal underworld, its chilling inhabitants and the people who protect us from them.
C. J. Lyons, Best-Selling Author:
“Rampage is an authentic and richly detailed police procedural.” ~ C.J. Lyons, NYT Bestselling Author