by Christa Faust
Hard Case Crime (2011)
After I was thoroughly entertained last year by Christa Faust's novel, Money Shot, I made it a point to put its followup on my to-be-read pile. Choke Hold definitely carries on with the indomitable porn star, Angel Dare, but she is--for lack of a better term--damaged goods. And where the mixture of fear and defiance played out to great effect in Money Shot, this novel shows that there were dire consequences to her actions and she's a long way off from what she once thought of as a normal life.
Angel is reduced to living on the run, her witness relocation blowing up in her face, and now laying low as a waitress in Arizona. As if now a magnet for bad luck, one of her old flames wanders into the diner, but not to see her. He's there to meet his eighteen-year-old son for the first time. But before father and son can have a Hallmark moment, three very mean men with even meaner hardware show up. A showdown ensues and Angel finds herself on the run with her former lover dying in the backseat, giving her word she'll keep Cody, his eighteen-year-old son, safe. From there, Angel's life is swept into Cody's world of mixed-martial arts, underground pitfights, and a whole new batch of unsavory men out to exploit the young man.
There is this salacious element to Angel Dare that kind of acts as a hook. After breaking up a sex slave ring in L.A., her life fell apart at the seams and she's been doing all she can just to stay alive without the associates of those she brought down making her pay a terrible price. The porn industry seems almost utopian compared to the quagmire she is in at the start of this book--and it only seems to get worse for her. I had moments reading this where I wondered aloud why she was standing by this kid, despite the tenuous relationship she had with his father. I guess her resolve and moral obligation via the man's dying request kept her going, but it felt like it strained credulity at a couple spots. Still, it was riveting stuff, as Cody's life seemed to spin out of control like hers had in the previous novel.
Seeing the evolution of Angel's character was a treat, and it felt very genuine given her circumstances. An added bonus was the budding romance with Cody's mentor, Hank, a kindhearted lummox long past his prime in the ring whose body--and mind--is banged up to a point that feels utterly tragic. He's a bit of a mother hen to Cody, but Cody has to look after Hank too, as Angel gradually sees past the muscles and bravado to the fragility and broken dreams of both men.
While I'd be happy to spoil the ending of this book, I'll refrain and simply say that this is a gutwrenching and visceral sequel to Money Shot with all the action I was expecting and a whole lot more that I was not. If Christa Faust has another Angel Dare novel up her sleeve, I can't wait to read it.