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The King of Swords: Meet Him, Meet Death    by Nick Stone order for
King of Swords
by Nick Stone
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Nick Stone's The King of Swords is not for the squeamish. The author of Mr. Clarinet brings readers its prequel, a second noir thriller set in a crime-ridden Miami (filled with 'Third World poor, First World envious' perps), starring jaded white Detective Sergeant Max Mingus and his black partner Joe Liston, and immersed in the horrors of Haitian voodoo. Ex-prizefighter Max Mingus has long been the protegé of powerful Deputy Chief Eldon Burns, and has pulled his partner and friend, Joe Liston, up through the ranks with him. What Joe doesn't know is what Max has had to do for his boss, manipulating evidence and framing evildoers for crimes they did not actually commit. Max's solace is booze and cigarettes.

This chilling story opens in a primate park where a corpse (retrieved with great difficulty) turns out to be that of a decent Haitian immigrant who inexplicably slaughtered his own beloved family and childhood friend - after swallowing a very rare Tarot card of the King of Swords. The only evidence found at the scene is a red and white striped candy wrapper. Other similar family massacres follow (many involving small children) along with a horrific courtroom killing. As Eldon orders Max to manufacture another solution and pin the latter killings on a known criminal, Max and Joe decide they have to find those responsible for all these related deaths, even though it means flying under the radar and going against their boss.

Readers get to know Max's opposition before he does - Eva Desamours, a voodoo priestess with a very real talent to read the future through tarot cards; her pimp son Carmine whom she has regularly and viciously abused since he was a child; and Eva's ex-student Solomon Boukman, who runs a drug and prostitution empire. Eva and Solomon keep control with their Saturday Night Barons Club, through a ceremony that terrifies spectators as it manufactures drug-induced zombies to do their awful bidding. They also use a very scary enforcer named Bonbon, who constantly munches on candy.

The plot quickly thickens as Carmine's futile attempts to get out from under his mother's thumb go regularly awry, and the hunted (Boukman, who has friends in high places) seeks to identify the hunters (Max and Joe) after a warning from Eva. Max also meets and falls hard for Sandra, a lovely Latin lady, who returns his feelings but insists on reforming him. Of course, she becomes his Achilles heel, as the violence and horror escalates to the very end, which hints of worse to come. If you enjoy a masterfully written chiller with plenty of surprises, gore galore, and horror in spades, then The King of Swords is not to be missed!

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