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The Heartbreak Lounge
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The Heartbreak Lounge

3.5 2
by Wallace Stroby

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Ex-state trooper Harry Rane, who first appeared in Wallace Stroby's brilliant debut novel, The Barbed-Wire Kiss, is at loose ends. Doing some investigative work for a friend's firm just to keep himself busy, Harry meets Nikki Ellis, a woman desperate for help. Her ex, Johnny Harrow, was just released from prison after a seven-year stretch for attempted


Ex-state trooper Harry Rane, who first appeared in Wallace Stroby's brilliant debut novel, The Barbed-Wire Kiss, is at loose ends. Doing some investigative work for a friend's firm just to keep himself busy, Harry meets Nikki Ellis, a woman desperate for help. Her ex, Johnny Harrow, was just released from prison after a seven-year stretch for attempted murder. Nikki hasn't spoken to him since he went down, but she knows what he's capable of, and that he'll be looking for her-and for the baby she put up for adoption after Johnny went away. She knows it's up to her to protect the child once again. And she's afraid.

As Harry finds out, she should be. Johnny is headed home to New Jersey to settle up with anyone who did him wrong while he was gone, including Nikki and his former employer, mobster Joey Alea. Then he's planning to find his son and start a new life.

Johnny starts at the Heartbreak Lounge, where Nikki was a dancer when she first met Johnny, and works his way through their old life, leaving a trail of blood and fear in his wake. Only Harry might be tough enough-or reckless enough-to help her. What happens next shows why the searing talent and explosive writing evident in The Barbed-Wire Kiss was only the beginning, and why Wallace Stroby is destined to be one of the finest crime writers of a generation.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In the brilliant follow-up to his impressive debut, Stroby continues the hard-boiled adventures of Harry Rane...” —Kirkus (starred review)

“Well-refined prose, vivid descriptions, and mounting tension stamp this hard-hitting follow-up to the acclaimed The Barbed-Wire Kiss.” —Library Journal

Marilyn Stasio
Stroby is back on this marginal social turf in The Heartbreak Lounge, writing with such fierce originality that he rejuvenates corny genre conventions. His first chapter, in which a violent thug named Johnny Harrow makes his way home to Asbury Park after doing a seven-year hitch in a Florida prison, is a chilling reversal of the cliched scene in which a naive ex-con is plucked off the highway by a predatory babe in a Buick convertible. Johnny has one thing on his twisted mind -- to kidnap the child that his former girlfriend, a strip dancer at the Heartbreak Lounge, gave up for adoption when he went to prison -- and while his amoral cruelty makes him something of an animal, he's an electrifying character and presents a genuine challenge for Harry Rane, a former state trooper turned security guard, who plays the credibly flawed hero in Stroby's twilight world of hopeless losers.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
When he obtains early release after seven years in a Florida prison, Johnny Harrow embarks on a vengeful reign of terror. His first victim is the unsuspecting woman with whom he hitches a ride, but his real targets are the mob boss who betrayed him and the ex-girlfriend/stripper who gave their child up for adoption. The ex-girlfriend, apprised of Johnny's freedom, hires protection in the form of ex-state trooper Harry Rane, who's been working private security. Well-refined prose, vivid descriptions, and mounting tension stamp this hard-hitting follow-up to the acclaimed The Barbed-Wire Kiss. Stroby lives in Ocean Grove, NJ. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a brilliant follow-up to his impressive debut (The Barbed-Wire Kiss, 2003), Stroby continues the hard-boiled adventures of Harry Rane. "You're a good man," a downhearted frail says to Harry Rane. "Don't let anybody tell you different." And she's right. Beneath the flinty facade and the iron curtain of habitual Weltschmerz beats a stout heart full to bursting with generous indignation at injustice. So it's no surprise that Nikki Ellis, the downhearted frail, turns to Harry when she's troubled by John Harrow, a stone killer who's just been released from Florida's Belle Glades State Prison after a seven-year jolt for attempted murder. Nikki has no doubt that her former lover has her in his sights. Never mind that he can't possibly know she's living in New Jersey. Johnny's a special case, she insists grimly. What he wants, he finds. And he wants her and the son he's never seen, the son she's given over for adoption. Harry becomes a believer, but even he isn't quite ready for this one-man wrecking crew. When Harrow and Rane go mano a mano in the obligatory showdown, the denouement is bloody, explosive, and deeply satisfying. Harry Rane walks these mean streets perfectly at home with the icons: Spade, Marlowe, and Archer.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Harry Rane Novels Series , #2
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Two days out of prison and twenty miles south of Daytona, Johnny decided he'd walked far enough.

He slipped the duffel bag off his shoulder, dropped it in the parched grass. There wasn't much in it: two pairs of jeans, some spare shirts and socks and the books from his cell - paperbacks of Nietzsche and Sun-Tsu, the Hagakure. He'd given everything else away before being processed out.

He sat on the duffel, elbows on his knees. He knew there was little chance of getting a ride for the next few miles, especially the way he looked, and he was light-headed from the sun and lack of food. He hadn't eaten since the night before, eggs and coffee at an all-night diner in Melbourne. He'd slept in a park, taken his chances with the police, not wanting to spend any more of the little kick-out money he had left on a motel.

There was a single Camel in the bent pack in his shirt pocket. He shook it out, straightened it, lit it with the silver Marine Corps lighter he'd stolen off a bar in Boynton Beach. He sucked in the smoke, held it for a good long time before letting it out, then crumpled the empty pack, tossed it. He sat there smoking, his legs sore, his back stiff, feet blistered in the heavy work boots. He would hurt tonight. Hurt twice as much if he had to sleep outside again.

He heard an engine, turned to look back the way he'd come. A flatbed truck rumbled toward him in the heat haze. Without getting up, he held out his thumb. The truck blew by him, raising dust and grit from the road, leaving it suspended in the air.

Passenger cars were few on this stretch of Route 1, and he knew his best chance was a truck. Yesterday he'd gottena ride all the way from For Pierce to the outskirts of Melbourne in the bed of a pickup driven by two Mexican day laborers. He sat on stacked concrete blocks and when they let him off, the dust was all over his clothes, his skin. He'd walked into town from there.

He took off the Marlins cap he'd bought in a convenience store, rubbed at his stubble. In Glades he'd kept his head shaved, had only let his hair grow out in the month before his release. It was thickening now, itching as it came in, but it offered little protection. The cap helped keep the sun off his scalp and forehead, but he could feed the stiffness and burning on the back of his neck.

He finished the cigarette, watched a hawk glide in the thermal currents above the tree line. There was a swamp on both sides of the highway, the air thick with the sulfur smell of it. Spanish moss hung from the cypress trees and it looked cool and dark among them, but the one time he had wandered in to get out of the sun, he had ended up knee-deep in water. So he kept to the road.

Out here, between towns, he knew he was running the biggest risk. He watched for the tan and black Florida State Police cruisers: if a trooper thought he was hitchhiking, he would be stopped, questioned, have to show ID. He was legal, free and clear, but that wouldn't matter. Cops were cops, and here it would be even worse. If he looked down-and-out-if he looked like what he was-they would fuck with him, make him spend a night in their drunk tank, cite, fine and release him. All by way of warning: Don't come back.

He wasn't coming back, he knew that. If he ever got out of this state, he was never coming back.

He brushed ash from his pants, stood up, his knees aching. He picked up the duffel, slung it over his right shoulder.

He heard the car before he saw it. Didn't bother to turn at first, until he heard the pitch of the engine change, slow. It was a dark green Buick Electra, sun flashing off chrome. He put his thumb out, saw a glimpse of blonde hair as the car went by. It was halfway up the rise when its brake lights glowed.

He watched the car slow, steer onto the shoulder, pause there as if the driver were having second thoughts. Then it began to slowly reverse, veering slightly from side to side. He could see the woman behind the wheel now, right arm thrown over the seat as she backed up, no one else in the car.

It stopped a few yards ahead of him, the woman looking back, sizing him up, her foot probably still on the gas pedal, ready to pull away in an instant. He knew how he must look, covered in dust and grime, his blue work shirt sweat dark. He walked slow, expecting the car to peal away, leave him breathing road dust. It stayed where it was.

As he got closer, there was a click from the trunk and the lid rose. He looked through the back window, saw her smile.

The trunk was big, empty except for a blanket and a white metal first-aid kit. He dropped the duffel in, shut the lid, heard the thunk as she unlocked the passenger-side door automatically.

He opened the door, said, "Thanks," and got in.

Copyright 2005 by Wallace Stroby

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"In the brilliant follow-up to his impressive debut, Stroby continues the hard-boiled adventures of Harry Rane..."—Kirkus"Well-refined prose, vivid descriptions, and mounting tension stamp this hard-hitting follow-up to the acclaimed The Barbed-Wire Kiss."—Library Journal

Meet the Author

Wallace Stroby is an editor for the New Jersey Star Ledger. His first novel, The Barbed-Wire Kiss, was a finalist for the Barry Award for Best First Novel. He lives in New Jersey, where he was born and raised.

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Heartbreak Lounge 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is a mystery novel titled THE LAST GOOD KISS by James Crumley. The work is revered by aficionados of the genre, many of whom establish their bona-fides with one another by demonstrating their ability to recite the opening paragraph of the book from memory. I shall now give these individuals cause to rend their garments at the blasphemy I'm about to commit, but commit it I must: the first six pages of THE HEARTBREAK LOUNGE by Wallace Stroby are just as good. Maybe even better. Pick up the book, test drive those pages, and see if you can stop reading, once you've brushed from your eyes the grit and gravel that you've accumulated as you stand with the newly released Johnny Harrow on the hot macadam of a Florida highway as he ostensibly attempts to hitchhike away from his past and into his future. I somehow missed THE BARBED-WIRE KISS, Stroby's first effort, which introduced ex-New Jersey State Trooper Harry Rane. If you've already read THE BARBED-WIRE KISS, you don't need me to tell you any more. But if you're not familiar with Stroby, and Rane, you might want to hang with me for just a minute here. You won't be sorry. Stroby's territory is the southern end of Central New Jersey, not the genteel Red Bank or even the deceptively laid back Monmouth, but Asbury Park and Neptune, municipalities that exude a quiet, dark uneasiness below the surface. It is to this area that Harrow is returning by way of Florida to settle old scores and to avenge what he considers, not without some merit, to be a number of wrongs wrought upon him. One of these involves a woman named Nikki Ellis, who gave birth to Harrow's son while Harrow was in prison and gave the baby up for adoption. Rane, for his part, is employed by a security agency run by one of his former state trooper colleagues. Ellis retains the agency for protection, an act that puts Rane and Harrow on a collision course. Rane's tragic flaw is that he is a man who attracts violence while being reluctant to respond in kind. Harrow, on the other hand, has the cunning of a reservoir dog and the disposition to match. His behavior is erratic and unpredictable, with the effect of his actions radiating violently outward from his locus. When these two men ultimately collide, it is with the effect of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. With little fanfare Stroby is breaking new ground in the realm of noir literature. His descriptive abilities are breathtaking, and quite possibly without contemporary peer in the genre. THE HEARTBREAK LOUNGE demonstrates a talent that runs deep, dark and rich. Highest possible recommendation. --- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved you. But all you did was use me, just like everyone else in your life. Page 294 That kind of trite prose sums it up. There are unexplained events. How did Johnny hook up with the old man in the first place? Why did he let the 2 gay guys live and kill everyone else? So out of character. Raymond Chandler wrote the same book 60 years ago only much, much better. Read Farewell, My Lovely instead. It'll be a much better use of your time.