The Ways Of The Wolfe by James Carlos Blake (2017)
Axel Prince Wolfe, pampered rich boy and heir to a successful family law business in Texas, decided to help a friend out by robbing a jewellery store. Axel was not entirely altruistic in his reasoning, as he yearned for some excitement in what he considered a mundane existence. The heist went bad. The young mister Wolfe, from a family mired in criminality both inside and outside the law, was shot and captured. There are spoilers here.
Although his father manage to secure a deal if Axel gave up his two accomplices, he refused. His best friend Billy ran off on Axel but Wolfe still felt some residual loyalty to him and so ended up with a thirty year sentence, much to his father’s dismay. But Axel had other responsibilities that he had decided to ignore when undertaking the robbery. He was married with a baby girl, Jesse. As he began his prison term, his money-grabbing wife abandoned her child with the Wolfe family and fled to what she hoped was a new and better life. It wasn’t, and neither Axel nor Jesse ever heard from her again.
Axel’s time in prison was not easy. He fought at times, earning himself an additional 11 years on to his sentence. Jesse refused to have anything to do with him, even though he tried to maintain contact. His only link to his family was through his faithful younger brother, Charlie, and it was through him that he kept track of his daughter’s progress through life.
Axel had served twenty years with eleven more still to go when he met the young Mexican gangster, Cacho. He discovers that this enthusiastic and creative new arrival has plans to leave his confinement, before the authorities allow him to. As Axel is an old-timer by prison standards, with knowledge of prison routines, Cacho reveals to him his intention to escape, and asks Axel to join him. Mr Wolfe is caught between finishing his time and starting afresh, or breaking free. It’s the thought that Jesse might not be around in eleven years that finally does it, and Axel agrees to join the escape.
Cacho’s brother, Quino, is a big-shot in a Mexican Cartel gang and arranges for a clever means of getting out using bribed prison officers. It’s costly, but then again Quino has no intention of letting the officers keep their fees. It all goes according to plan, almost. An unforeseen glitch means that their disappearance is noticed much sooner than planned and a chase is undertaken to capture them. Both Cacho and Axel get caught up in heavy rains that have fallen in the area and their getaway vehicle is swept into a swollen river. It doesn’t look good for them.
Cue drama and terror and a gritty determination to survive as the men eventually find their way to Mexico where they almost die in the desert. Of course, Mexican drug gangs are well resourced and both Axel and Cacho are found and saved, albeit with a few minor injuries. Quino is delighted with Axel. He promises him a new life with the Cartel, a life of riches and beautiful women. Wolfe always was a man for adventure and his adrenaline-loving streak comes to the fore again. He accepts his new role as a member of the Mexican gang.
But Axel has never forgotten the one thing that drives him more than any other, his daughter Jesse. As he contemplates his future and how he can meet her, he is involved in an operation along the border which results in a shootout with a rival gang. Axel is superficially wounded, but it’s enough to convince him to make a move in contacting Jesse.
Unfortunately, at this time, Quino gets wind of the Mexican who was with Axel and Billy during their botched robbery all those years ago. Axel had thought that he was done with that part of his life but finds that his anger at having been abandoned by Billy returns with a vengeance. Quino and Axel visit the Mexican only to find that he’s a mess. He stole from a drugs gang and their payback was savage in the extreme. He does tell Axel that Billy not only abandoned him, he also stole the robbery proceeds from the Mexican and left him to be captured. Billy is not Mr Popular round those parts, let Rebel Voice tell you that.
Billy, Billy, Billy, the man becomes an obsession for Axel who sets out alone to call upon his old friend. Eventually he finds the bold William in Mexico but, when he gets to the point where he could kill him, he finds that the anger has quickly and unexpectedly dissipated. All Axel can think about is Jesse. Sadly, though, Billy has managed to spot Axel, a man he has been waiting on since he learned of his escape from the Texas prison. He follows him as Axel makes his way, impulsively, across the border in search of Jesse. The reunion is not as Axel expected, as Billy makes an unwelcome appearance. It gets messy, let us tell you that and no more.
The Ways Of Wolfe is a fairly decent novel. It reminds one of Don Winslow or perhaps Cormac McCarthy in it depictions of Texas and Mexico and the characters found therein. The settings for this story are fantastic, as is the cast. There are some issues with consistency of behaviour in some instances but not many. The strange thing is the way the story is structured. It’s presents as heavily invested in certain areas of little import. OK, Cacho and the prison is important. The escape is also. But there is little about Jesse and Axel’s brother Charlie. There is also scant mention of the considerable, and criminal, Wolfe family connections in Mexico. If you were in trouble, or needed information on someone, surely you would call upon your own family. Axel doesn’t and the reason is never fully explained. There is the feel of an imbalance to it.
However, perhaps that’s nitpicking, as for the most part this is a strong story full of excitement and drama. It will grip and hold. The ending is poor though; there’s no getting away from that. It feels inconclusive. But then again, this is but one story in the Wolfe family saga. Jesse is featured as a central character in others.
James Carlos Blake is an exceptionally fine writer and a great, and new, find for Rebel Voice. The content of The Ways of Wolfe is an indication of his skills with a pen and would be enough for this reviewer to search out and read Blake again.
Sult scale rating: 7.5 out of 10. Decent story with a very good setting and cast. The Wolfe family saga is a good one to get into, especially if you like Cormac McCarthy and Don Winslow. It’s gritty, exciting and full of suspense that should hook you until the end.
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