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Lost in Wildwood
Joshua has been a thief all his life. The biggest score he's ever seen just fell into his lap. There are stacks of cash in a backroom practically waiting for the right crew to grab them. The planning and preparation have been painstaking, but years in the game have brought Joshua to this moment . . . and he's ready! So why is there a knot in his stomach whenever Joshua wakes up in the morning? Maybe it's because the job breaks every rule that has kept him safe all these years. It involves guns, shady partners, and powerful people who don't appreciate getting robbed. Or it could be the beautiful girl who's bringing out feelings Joshua thought were just for other people. The girl who's making him wonder if there's something more to life than just the next score. Only two weeks to get everything set. When the big night comes, bullets fly and friends become enemies. This job is going to end in a test of all Joshua's skills, and a reckoning with all his demons.
Dale’s low-key and surprisingly emotional heist story follows a conflicted young man toying with the idea of leaving the life of organized crime. Josh Keogh is 21 and living in a dangerous neighborhood on the outskirts of Philadelphia. He supports his widowed mother and younger brother by stealing. His pushy Korean friend, Nick Suk, informs Joshua of a mob-connected card game that will take place in Wildwood and proposes looting the game and splitting the profits. Meanwhile, Joshua reminisces about his life as a college student before he dropped out. He reconnects with his former classmate Julia and soon his obsession with her becomes a “fever” that consumes him.

Dale creates an impressive cast of truly abominable characters. Their vile language, which includes some racial slurs, may be discomfiting to some readers. At certain times in the book, particularly during the heist, it is difficult to keep track of the characters, since they share many similar personality traits. However, Joshua’s inner struggles around continuing in this line of work make him distinct, and his bittersweet memories of his father, which he often revisits, give insight into how he became a professional criminal.

The aftermath of the heist leads to more trouble for Joshua, including murder, but the tension is sometimes bogged down by confusing prose (“Stiffening his legs and his shoulders, he cut the water like a pencil”). Craving some comfort, Joshua increasingly pursues Julia, even though she has a boyfriend and shows no romantic interest in Joshua. This side of the story is more engaging than the one about Joshua’s criminal activity, and its conclusion feels abrupt, though it’s appropriate for the characters. The explorations of Joshua’s interpersonal relationships are the book’s most interesting and vivid sections, and will satisfy readers who want more than just action from their thrillers.

Takeaway: This gritty tale will appeal to fans of heist thrillers peppered with romance and tragedy.

Great for fans of James Sallis’s Drive, W.R. Burnett’s Asphalt Jungle

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: B-
Illustrations: -
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B+