CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust (2011, Hard Case Crime)
Angel Dare returns in this sequel to Christa Faust’s Money Shot. The previous book was a hell-ride. The new one takes the reader into another burning episode in the life of Angel Dare, former adult movie star and now in the federal witness protection plan. At the conclusion of Money Shot, Angel had just unleashed a pack of Eastern European girls on the international gangster who’d sold them into sexual slavery. It was a bleak end after she’d taken out revenge on the punks who left her for dead. Choke Hold picks up nearly a year later.
Angel is a waitress at a cheap diner near the Arizona-Mexico border when a former boyfriend, Thick Vic, walks in the door. A former drug addict, he’s cleaned up his act and is now trying to reconnect with the son he hardly knew. But in the first chapter a gun battle erupts when gangsters come looking for Vic. Pretty soon they’re after Angel too. Once again she has to flee into the night.
Angel finds herself on the run with Vic’s son Cody. They’re forced to get help any way they can. The first assistance comes in the form of Hank, Cody’s surrogate dad and has-been Mixed Martial Arts fighter. Hank lives out in the desert by himself, teaches at a hole-in-the-wall dojo, and is on parole for an assault charge. To make matters worse, Hank is punch drunk and on medication from all the years of head shots. But Hank is the only person who can help Angel and Cody.
The action is relentless in this book. Just when you think a moment is going to get tender, somebody smashes in the door. There are at least two sets of criminals after Angel and maybe more. As with Money Shot, the only person who comes out looking good in this book is Angel. Everybody else is damaged goods.
Damage seems to be an over-riding theme in Choke Hold. Hank was once a famous fighter, now he goes across the border to enter illegal matches in Mexico. Angel survived an abusive father to start her own talent agency in California, but she’s on the run from gangsters. One of her contacts is a survivalist who treats his teenage wife as a slave. In this novel, the only way to repair the damage is to survive the beatings.
As always, Faust has a way with describing people, places and things. Such as to how she describes the survivalist network which consists of “perpetual teenagers living out their own personal late-’80s post-apocalyptic movie fantasies”. Or this extreme pornographer: “Always pushing the limits, flogging the freedom of speech routine till it bled, but underneath all the self-important oppressed genius bluster, the truth was that his stuff just wasn’t very good.”. Or her similarities of the adult film world to professional fighting: “Young men fighting to become this ultimate over-the-top expression of manhood. Young female porn stars striving to become the ultimate expression of feminine allure.”.
The resolution of the novel is bleak, but I’ve come to expect it from Faust. In her world you have to be strong to survive and it helps if you don’t care. Angel cares, although she runs when she must. Which is what makes this and the prequel such powerful books. Even the brief sexual encounters in Choke Hold exist to allow the characters the energy to survive another day.
This novel is a gripping read. I zipped through it in less than a day and was trying to cook dinner with one hand while reading Choke Hold in another. Ms. Faust is at the top of her game and we can only look for more trophies.