February 6th, 2024
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The Diabolical is the eleventh book in the Bruno Johnson series, about a former LA Sheriff’s Deputy now living incognito in Costa Rica with his wife and large family of young children rescued from abusive homes in his native LA. While the foreword suggests that the books can be read in any order, and this is technically true, there’s an awful lot of backstory now, that could make this confusing to a newcomer. Even having read four of them, I felt lost at some of the mentions of his past, so I would recommend starting with the earlier books, and not least because I didn’t much like some aspects of his character in this one, and would be unlikely to look for more if this was my introduction to him.
Bruno is trying to put his violent past behind him, and is happy working as a bartender in a beach resort, earning just enough to keep his large family comfortable. Then two of his good friends are killed in a massacre at a nearby bar – and the local police chief is ready to offer Bruno up as a suspect if he doesn’t deliver up the killer promptly. Can he solve the crime while keeping his wife, his bossy manager and his best patron happy – or at least alive?
Unlike the other books I’ve read from the series, this one is set exclusively in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, which made an interesting change. As in the last one, Bruno is trying hard to give up the “blood and bone” of his previous life, but circumstances and bad guys keep forcing him back to it. The plot got quite complicated, with an over-reliance on coincidence, with a variety of criminals bumping people off for reasons that may or may not be connected, and it all got pretty implausible – especially with Waldo his best friend’s psycho-rottie appearing every time Bruno gets into trouble, ready to maul anyone who gets in his way – or just attack Bruno himself! I didn’t guess what was going on, because the twist came rather out of left field and it felt a bit contrived, plus the ending was very sudden. Maybe there’s more to come with the various unresolved plot lines…
What I really didn’t like was how sleazy Bruno has suddenly become – which was not an issue in the previous books that I recall – one glimpse of his sexy Food & Beverage Manager sunbathing naked, and he’s perving at her at any opportunity – and sizing up any other woman he meets, despite supposedly being madly in love with his wife and her new baby – not to mention what comes later. This is the quickest way to put me off a “hero” so I hope it won’t be a new theme of Bruno’s midlife crisis as he approaches fifty. I did like some of the humour and lighter moments, like Bruno’s family hijinks with his crazy brood of kids. I’ve been swithering between rounding up or down from 3.5 – I’m a big fan of this author and am invested in this series, so will continue it (and definitely need to catch up with the earlier books all sitting on my TBR) but am settling on three stars.
Thanks to NetGalley and Oceanview publishing for the ARC.