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Onyx reviews: Devils in Exile by Chuck Hogan

Life isn't easy for veterans returning from Iraq. People appreciate the sacrifice, but no one wants to hire a vet for fear that he'll go off unexpectedly. This is what Neal Maven discovers when he gets back to Boston from his tour of duty. He starts out with a job in a convenience store and escalates to collecting admission fees at a parking garage late at night.

This is where he is enlisted by Brad Royce, who witnesses Maven's encounter with a bunch of would-be robbers. Royce realizes how close Maven came to killing one of his attackers and recognizes the skills of a trained soldier.

Royce has assembled a small posse of vigilantes who have Boston's worst drug dealers in their sights. After deliberate and extensive preparation (reminiscent of the robberies committed by the gang in Prince of Thieves), they hit during high-dollar deals. The merchandise they destroy, the money they divide evenly (Royce gets two shares) like Robin Hood and his band of merry thieves. The supposed goal is to put a serious dent in the supply chain and make the dealers nervous enough to ruin other deals. The brilliant aspect of their scheme is that they never injure or kill any of the drug dealers, which keeps their interventions mostly below the police radar.

One fly in the ointment is Royce's girlfriend, Danielle, who Maven knew from high school. She was the unattainable goddess, a few years older than he was, a classmate of Maven's late sister. Another is DEA agent Lash, who resents the fact that someone else is doing his job—and better.

However, Royce's real motivation is not quite as altruistic as it seems. The capers grow riskier and less poorly organized, putting the entire team at risk. Maven's developing relationship with Danielle also jeopardizes the situation.

The book is a fast read, with the momentum accelerating as things go from bad to worse to cataclysmic. Hogan doesn't treat any of his characters delicately, bringing in a duo of white Jamaican killers (with a fondness for removing eyes as souvenirs of their victims) to put an end to the Sugar Bandits' reign of terror. The body count is high, and there is a lot of collateral damage—as in any war.

Maven ends up with the short end of the stick, having to replicate the same feats as his former team, except he's a lone wolf working against seemingly insurmountable odds. A high-octane thriller with razor sharp dialog and a real sense of location.

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