Ray Mileur asked me to read and review The Gateway to Hell soon after I had expressed my general disdain for independently published books. I thought it took a lot of guts to do that, and after I decided to indeed read and review his book, it didn’t surprise me to find out that Ray is an ex-Marine, former police chief, and a private investigator. That explained a lot, and I was pleased to find the same gutsiness running throughout this first-rate novel.
Mike Shannon is a PI with a past. Like the author, he’s an ex-Marine and ex-cop that has just returned from a secret mission rescuing a U.S. Ambassador’s daughter from a Columbian drug cartel. Unfortunately, the mission wasn’t so secret after all, as Shannon’s face and exploits are soon plastered all over the news. To make matters worse, Shannon gets a tip that someone has put a hit out on him, with a million dollar payday to whoever kills him first. When a client asks him to locate his missing daughter Lori, Shannon’s life gets even more complicated when he finds a brick of crack cocaine under the girl’s bed, sealed with an evidence sticker and signed by none other than his cop friend Steve Holland. Luckily, Shannon has a friend on the police force named Frank Taggert, who believes that Holland is being framed, and who knows Shannon is one of the good guys. What follows is a rollicking story through the mean streets of St. Louis, as Shannon shoots his way through a barrage of dirty cops and Italian mobsters while trying to locate Lori, clear Holland’s name, and stay alive long enough to rendezvous with his ex-wife Carol.
This book had just about everything I look for in a good novel: well-developed characters, humor, perfect pacing and a page-turning story. Shannon is a battle-hardened, Dr. Pepper addict who has no qualms about leaving a slew of bodies behind wherever he goes. In his world it’s kill or be killed, and he’s got the shooting skills that will not only keep him alive, but give him the ability to take out all the bad guys by the end of the book. Shannon has an almost Clint Eastwood-like persona. Age-wise he’s on the older side for a hero (approaching fifty) and has the self-confidence and experience to practically save the day by himself, although he does have a crack team of employees that help him out. I also loved that he’s a man with weaknesses, his ex Carol for one. Even though he finds out that she’s also sleeping with a dirty cop named Danko, a truly awful character that eventually gets his comeuppance, he still loves her and cannot give up their post-marriage trysts. And he’s not infallible. He gets shot twice during the story and frequently complains about his aging body’s aches and pains.
Shannon’s nemesis is a hit man named Morreti, an Italian connected with the New York mob. Morreti’s come to St. Louis to perform a hit on a cop, and during the course of the novel we discover the complicated relationship between the two. Both men have a grudging respect for each other and it shows in their brief but memorable encounters. I’d love to see Ray write another book with these two characters.
The two clashing groups of mobsters, one from New York and one from St. Louis, add a twist to an already exciting story. St. Louis crime boss Salvatore Salerno is as upstanding as a crime boss can get, I image, and I liked his character immensely. He clashes with the New York faction, a couple of Italian thugs who have come to town to collect the million dollars on Shannon’s head, and to work behind Salerno’s back with his nephew Joey to get a drug trafficking business going. Although blatant stereotypes, I loved the under-handed dealings of the two groups. Throwing Shannon and Morreti into the mix only made things more interesting.
This passage between Taggert and Shannon, before the shit hits the fan, sums up the flavor of The Gateway to Hell:
“We’ve got problems, Frank.”
“We?” Taggert answered. “What is this we shit?”
“You stick with me, we’ll go places.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of!” Taggert replied nervously. “Potosi Correctional Center or Marion!”
“Hell, by the time we wrap this one up, you’ll make lieutenant,” Shannon said, “and have your own driver to haul your fat ass around town.”
Taggert laughed nervously. “And how are we supposed to do that?”
“It’s simple!” Shannon said, ticking his fingers. “We have about 72 hours left. All we have to do is clear Holland’s name in time for his funeral, so he can be buried with full police honors; track down his killer; expose a band of rogue cops within the department; bust up an international drug trafficking ring; and find my runaway and get her back home safely.”
“Is that all?” Taggert said. He looked at his watch. “Can we eat first?”
Filled with authentic details and cop-speak, this is one thriller that you won’t be able to put down. I’m hoping for another Mike Shannon book soon.
Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.