Tyler Cross: Angola is a classy slice of pulp fiction – a hard-boiled crime novel, Hollywood noir homage. Safe as a barrel ride off Niagara falls and more fun than the fourth of July. Heads down, no nonsense, mindless violence and mayhem with a twist of femme fatale for good measure – or is it? You decide.

The sequel to Tyler Cross: Black Rock gets right into the groove of the original: cross, double cross and revenge by the truck load. Tyler Cross is a one-man army, not that he’d fight in any man’s war any time soon. At least, not unless there’s a serious wedge of cash in it for himself. Unarmed, he’s as dangerous as a swamp croc that been poked with a sharp stick, armed he may just be the angel of death unleashed. But now he’s in Angola, one of the most notorious prisons in the American penal system – a law unto itself. Any ordinary hardened thug would be crying himself to sleep at night, but if they think they have Tyler Cross beat, forget about it. This is a beginning not an end.

The story so far: Cross was hired by mob boss Di Pietro to steal 20 kilos of pure Mexican brown from his nephew, Tony Scarfo. Di Pietro was carrying a grudge ever since the mob decided to retire him and drop him from the gravy train. Cross took his girl, JC, and a lump of muscle, Ike, along for the ride. The job went south, Ike, JC and a number of Mexican cops wound up dead and the drugs vanished. After a chase, Cross recovered most of the drugs. Only he stopped off, paused for breath, in hicksville USA, a place called Black Rock. A town that belonged to the Preggs (sheriff, mayor and dog catcher). Cross found it easy to get on the wrong side of the locals and the shit hit the fan long before the Chicago mob showed up. Needless to say, Tyler survived, albeit with a price on his head. Fast forward a few years to Angola…

Six chained up men, an armed guard and a driver in a truck on a rainy night on route to Angola State Farms. Tyler Cross, down to serve twenty years, among them. It all stems from a meeting on a yacht with Hermann van Geld, New Orleans jeweller, generally shady character and inveterate gambler. The job was an insurance scam that the wife didn’t know about. Easy money by robbing van Geld, returning the goods and walking away with $200K for his troubles. Cross had money and a girl, enough to last a year, but he takes the job anyway, maybe it’s the excitement? Iris, dark, shapely and attractive, and factotum Neville tagged along, but again nothing went to plan. Now, Cross is at the mercy of Captain Kroeker, boss of Camp H, a man with a mean streak the size of a California redwood. The only thing more deadly than Kroeker is his wife; if she takes a fancy to you, that is. On the farms everything is about the money, every angle is being worked, every inmate has a value but everyone is expendable. The Scarfos still want Cross dead and now he’s joined a few of their boys in prison they see their chance. Making it to bedtime is going to be a tall order.

Angola stinks, it’s not just the rotten food, the mob run this joint and the state pays. By day a man could die of sunstroke if the work don’t get you first. Draw the captain’s attention once and you get a lashing, twice and there’s no going home, ever! Cross has one old pal in Angola and he manages to make a new friend quickly, but every guard, every mob guy and every ambitious inmate knows there’s a bounty on Cross. He has to get out, and if he does he’s gonna want revenge on the people who put him here.

Tyler Cross: Angola is fast, bloody, witty and sharp. If it’s quiet, it’s only the calm before the storm, a fistfight or a shoot out is just around the corner. From the first rainy night ride to the hell that is Angola state farm, this is a white knuckle ride. There are a lot of people out there who think they can put that final nail in Tyler Cross’ coffin but if they try they’d better win, Cross doesn’t do forgiveness. He has a small drop of loyalty in him but don’t count on it making much difference if it slows him down. This time it’s mobsters and prison guards who cross Cross and the themes in this black thriller include sexism, racism and prison corruption.

The artwork is stylish and the simple colour palette is a perfect compliment for a really decent pulp thriller – very much in the vein of the first book. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the prison, the heat and the stench, is almost palpable. Tyler Cross is a great nihilistic anti-hero. The occasional sly touch of humour rounds off this exhilarating story. Tyler Cross: Angola is written by the author of the award winning The Death of Stalin. I hope we hear more of Tyler Cross in the future.

Paul Burke 4/4

Tyler Cross: Angola by Fabian Nury and Bruno
Titan Comics 9781785867316 hbk Mar 2019