The Ways of the Wolfe by James Carlos Blake

Review published on June 12, 2018.

This is the fourth novel in the superb Wolfe chronicles from Blake. Fans will not be disappointed by this worthy addition to the series. This is gold standard Americana; the natural descendent of the Western, encompassing the best hard-boiled traditions but it’s also a family saga and, as a collection, an epic tale of the twentieth century borderlands. The Wolfe family is a Texas clan, on the surface they run a legal firm, respected but also feared, the practice handed down from generation to generation. But each member of the family gets a choice when they become an adult. The Wolfe’s are also a crime family, ‘the shade trade’, that deals in cross-border smuggling and drugs. The problem in The Ways of the Wolfe is that Alex, the main protagonist, gets himself into petty stuff with friends, outside the family’s protection, with disastrous consequences. The Ways of the Wolfe can easily be read as a standalone novel, it’s a self-contained story, but this is a great addition to the chronicles of Wolfe.

The Ways of the Wolfe begins in Dallas, Texas, 1984. Alex Wolfe steals a white Ford Fairmont from the zoo carpark and pulls out on to I-30 behind Duro’s Mustang. The two cars pull over, Alex, Duro and Billy drive to a mall in the stolen car. Alex stays with the car while Duro and Billy take down a jewellers. Alex bumps the car on the way out of the car park, it draws attention. They wind up in a police chase. A bullet through the car door wounds Alex. When it comes to making a run for it, Alex is caught. Harry Mack Wolfe, his lawyer and father, urges him to give up his pals but Alex stands firm. It means thirty years in jail. His wife Ruby visits him once but he never gets to see his daughter, Jessica. That and the betrayal of Billy, who left him on the ground at the crime scene, play on Alex over the years. He winds up in the Charles Zanco Prison, by 2008 he’s kept his nose clean for years but freedom is a mile away. Then Cacho arrives, he wants to bust out. Alex is reluctant but things happen… It’s time he caught up with the outside world.

The first half of the book tells the present day story, gritty and vital, interspersed with the backstory of the characters and the Wolfe family. Both feel very real and are equally exciting. Blake is a beautiful storyteller, his prose is sharp, straightforward and gripping. The novel is never slow but the last hundred pages gather a pace, heading towards a satisfying denouement. The story is more straightforward than the first novel, The House of Wolfe, which set a plethora of stories running at the same time. There are points of crossover in this novel that will strike a chord with readers familiar with that novel, stories involving Ruby and Jessica. Subtly added the elements of the story blend easily with Alex’s story.

James Carlos Blake has a style all his own but fans of Elmore Leonard and Cormac McCarthy will recognise some of the territory his writing inhabits. This is right up there with the best of American crime writing. A real winner.

Paul Burke 5/4

The Ways of the Wolfe by James Carlos Blake
No Exit Press 9781843448853 pbk May 2018

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