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Spotlight on: Riding the Brand by Bruce Makous

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Riding the Brand by Bruce Makous Bruce Makous, Riding the Brand

A former student of creative writing at Oberlin College, Bruce Makous goes to the head of the class (I couldn't resist) with his debut novel, Riding the Brand. Besides being one of the better crime novels I've read lately, it is one of the best small press offerings I've read in ages. Publishers Hilliard and Harris appear to be one of the few smaller houses operating with a real, live copyeditor. (Of course, Makous' own experience as Associate Editor of the literary magazine Boulevard probably ties into that, as well.) As one who reviews a lot of books, finding a book from smaller house that is this textually pristine would alone be cause for celebration, even if it weren't such a great read.

Hubble Countermine is on the verge of an initial public offering (IPO) for his dot-com enterprise. His website's main feature is that it can find information on any individual. This is pretty much the ideal service for just about anybody, the first sign that author Makous has his finger on the pulse of the modern business world.

Hubb's relationship with his girlfriend Deena is going well until his brother, Nicky, is connected to the death of Deena's stepsister, Mar. Then Hubb's world begins to crumble, and soon Nicky dies mysteriously, too. To make things worse, Hubb begins relying on his virtual döppelganger, "Dubble" Countermine, to do his talking for him when questioned by the police. In fact, the only thing that seems to be going his way is the successful acquisition of the necessary venture capital to get his company off the ground. He just has to make sure that he doesn't spend it frivolously, or "ride the brand."

In the meantime, Deena, having moved away, is having surprisingly good fortune at launching her own fashion design firm, Deena East, while finding romance in the form of her benefactor. Simulaneously, the private detective that Hubb hires to look into the deaths of Nicky and Mar, Leo Mastrone, begins to uncover several unexpected coincidences. Some coincidences that neither Hubb nor Deena are going to be prepared for.

Makous shows all the signs of experience in this novel. (This is actually his fourth novel, but the first published.) He's obviously comfortable with letting his characters do their own things and he adds several creative touches throughout the novel. Realistically delving into the seamier sides of business and humanity, Makous' work echoes that of Frederick Forsyth. And, also like Forsyth's books, Riding the Brand is an almost perfect choice for commuting: plot-heavy, quickly-paced, and divided into relatively short chapters, it is easy to get through without having to think too much about the story; I finished it in two days, and I don't read quickly. Most of all, it's a solid story with believable characters and a hero in Hubble who, though he may have one of the odder quirks I've come across, was instantly easy to identify with. I look for Bruce Makous to have a terrific career ahead of him if he can get over the hurdle of obscurity.

(If this review doesn't have you ready to buy a copy of Riding the Brand, do what I did: Go over to Makous' website and download the first three chapters. After reading the sample, I knew instantly that I had to read the rest of the book, and I'm very picky about what I choose to read. That's the true test of the quality of any book -- reading it. It doesn't cost you anything but time, and you may be pleasantly surprised. I was.)

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