Conway Sax is not, in general, the kind of guy you cozy up to. He has close ties with girlfriend Charlene and her kids, but commitment often eludes him. He’s done time and has a hair-trigger temper that he euphemistically calls a “red mist.” A recovering alcoholic, he’s wildly loyal to his AA band of brothers, the Barnburners, but he’s always getting into catastrophic scrapes and making the same mistakes time and again.

So why is this character so hard to dismiss? Shotgun Lullaby, author Steve Ulfelder's third book in the Conway Sax series, may be your best clue. It’s Ulfelder’s best, most tightly written story so far, following on the successful heels of his first two books, Purgatory Chasm and The Whole Lie.

Conway Sax is a mess—but readers will love him anyway.

Shotgun Lullaby presents readers with a snappy, memorable cast of characters, including a young recovering alcoholic, Gus, who kicks off the train of mayhem by unknowingly reminding Sax of his estranged son. Right off the bat, it’s clear that Sax will throw caution to the wind and make every effort to protect the young man. A murder at Gus’ halfway house sends Sax onto a trail that gets more devious and littered with bodies as the pages turn, involving Gus’ wealthy father, his sexy second wife and Gus’ stoner friend Brad, as well as mobsters, con men and a savvy state-cop-slash-ally.     

The book is riveting because Ulfelder knows how to write: His prose is uncluttered, the dialog matches real-life talk and the humor is actually funny, with a welcome absence of wisecracks.

Sax is riveting because he’s struggling, and we can recognize some of his failings as ours. He suffers from a form of “act now, plan later” adrenaline in his efforts to set things right, and he’s sometimes unwilling to think through the consequences of his actions. His closest supporters, including Charlene, her teenage kids and his best buddy Randall, understand all this about him, but he often ignores their wisest advice—and sometimes places them in jeopardy. In Lullaby, a final harrowing scene brings all of Sax’s messy contradictions to bear in one breath-holding moment readers won’t soon forget. It’s a testament to the author’s skill that we keep hoping Sax will pull things together. We want him to slow down and breathe deeply, and we’re still on his side.

Shotgun Lullaby will make an indelible impression on all readers up for a great ride.

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