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By Austin Camacho

Whether you’re looking for a new mystery, an intriguing caper story or a taut thriller by a writer who has something to say about today’s society, you’ll want to check out Gary Phillips’ the WARLORD OF WILLOW RIDGE.  This ambitious novel has it all.

Willow Ridge is an exclusive gated community, or at least it was before the recession left homeowners at the ends of their financial ropes.  Now two rival gangs are at odds, there’s drug manufacturing going on, while white collar criminal behavior percolates below the surface as well.

Into this setting of passion, betrayal and potential violence wanders O’Connor, a down-on-his-luck career criminal looking for a place to lie low.  O’Connor is the kind of guy who’s always looking for an angle, not really looking to hurt someone.  Still, even the author admits that his protagonist is not really a hero.

“O’Connor is neither all bad nor all good,” Phillips says.  “He does what’s necessary, though contrasted against some of the other people he encounters in the book I don’t think he comes off looking too shabby.”

In part, this book is about what the author calls The Great Recession and its impact on the American Middle Class.  Having touched on the topic in a short story he wanted to explore it more deeply.

“Just as the Great Depression infused hardboiled detective fiction and the crime story, this time of ours and how economic conditions affect us physically and psychologically is ripe for exploration in many edgy tales as well.”

In WARLORD OF WILLOW RIDGE he explores what happens when a smart crook turns up in a place where the middle class is struggling and other criminals are taking over.  While it’s pure fiction, reviewers and readers frequently refer to Phillips’ work as “honest.”  His characters do have a certain realness to them, and he thinks he knows why.

“Whether I’m writing O’Conner, a man of a certain age as I am or a pretty woman in her twenties, I try to get in their skin to write them,” Phillips says.  “I want to understand the way they come at the world; their perspectives; their way of dealing with adversity.”

The story is nicely complex, with thrills, a couple of cool capers and lots of twists and turns.  Lots of interesting characters wander the streets of Willow Ridge, each with his or her own agenda.

“One of the joys I had in writing the book was how the schemes of the various characters intersect at times,” Phillips says, “yet certain characters don’t always know who the other person is or how their schemes cross – though the reader gets to see these machinations play out – with O’Conner often at the center of these events.”

Among the fascinating characters are some clear villains: the Mas Trece, who control part of the meth trade and their rivals the Vandal Vikings motorcycle gang.  There are also retirees, gangbangers, unemployed middle managers, and factory workers.  With this cast, meth being manufactured in suburbia is no surprise, but where O’Connor stands in all this sometimes is.

As Phillips points out, “Positions and perspectives change.  In some instances O’Conner stands against some of these anti-social forces and in other instances, he allies with certain people and their plans.  That’s why I see him as a warlord, someone exercising a kind of civil authority, an underground power.”

Importantly O’Connor doesn’t see himself that way.  He and these other characters are walking in the footsteps of other great fictional characters drawn from the work of Phillips’ heroes.

“I’m a fan of crime fiction in the vein of Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain and David Goodis to name three.  I like to think my book is in that lineage.”

If you admire the same writers, you owe it to yourself to read the WARLORD OF WILLOW RIDGE by Gary Phillips, to see the next generation of their styles.


Beside the WARLORD OF WILLOW RIDGE, Gary Phillips’ current work includes a short story in the upcoming HEROIN CHRONICLES, and is launching an e-book series entitled THE ESSEX MAN – imagine Bruce Wayne learned the skills he did, only didn’t put on a cape and cowl crossed with Shaft.

To learn more about Gary, please visit his website.

Austin Camacho
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