Record Scratch has writing that’s crisp and direct, with wit, humor and darkness

Screen Shot 2019-06-24 at 3.12.12 PMIn JJ Hensley’s compelling Record Scratch, Trevor Galloway takes a case from the sister of a murdered superstar musician, who expects him not only to solve her brother’s eight-month-old homicide, but to recover a vinyl record she believes could ruin his reputation and his legacy. The client closes the meeting by putting a gun under her chin and pulling the trigger. Galloway’s sense of obligation drags him down a path he may not be ready to travel.

This is the second in the Trevor Galloway series, beginning with Bolt Action Remedy (2017), and following up later this year (Oct. 14) with Forgiveness Dies.

I’m a bit late to the party, not having read the first Galloway thriller, but I never felt lost in the plot, and Hensley keeps the action going. The writing is crisp and direct, with wit, humor and darkness as the trail to what really happened to rock star Jimmy Spartan unfolds. It probably isn’t a spoiler to note that things get violently out of hand for Galloway, but I’ll leave it at that.

As Galloway pieces together the final days of rock and roll legend Jimmy Spartan, he struggles to sort through his own issues, which include having the occasional hallucination. He’s not certain how bad his condition has deteriorated, but when Galloway is attacked in broad daylight by men he assumed were figments of his imagination, he realizes the threat is real and his condition is putting him and anyone nearby at risk. The stoic demeanor and ironic distance that earned Galloway the nickname The Tin Man works well as a device for carrying the story forward, even as that detachment is tested.

Pittsburgh, PA, itself plays a role in this thriller. Like Stephen Mack Jones’s Detroit, the author guides us through the city, its neighborhoods and its denizens with familiarity, exasperation and love. I enjoyed every page of Record Scratch, and I read the final third in one night. The picture of a man slowly coming unmoored from the codes to which he had adhered and that gave his life meaning is fascinating, compelling and darkly satisfying. The novel begins and ends ominously: “There are two types of men you must fear in this world: Men who have everything to lose—and men like me.” 

The stakes and the conflict are real. Recommended for anyone who likes forceful, intelligent thrillers.


This is one of an occasional series of mystery-thriller book reviews, archived here.

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager NoirPolitik thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.



If you live in Philadelphia, pick up copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
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