Back in my review of the last Gunsmith Cats omnibus, I figured out what makes this series such a blast: the contrasts. The Cats stories take place in an action-movie universe of guns, cars, computers, bombs, babes, and dudes, where you’re likely to learn on one page how much torque you can squeeze out of a ’67 GT500 — and then have that bit of technical fetishism followed up with a scene where a guy snatches a rocket-propelled grenade out of the air. Realistic? No, but since when has this been a problem?
The third Burst book kicks off with Rally Vincent replacing her beloved Shelby 500 GT (blown up in the last book) with a different but equally-appealing V8: a vintage Cobra, refitted to within an inch of her life and armored out to boot. In trueGunsmith Cats form, trouble manages to follow Rally even during a test drive: while out taking the Cobra for a spin, she runs afoul of a possible bounty and gives the Cobra a patented Rally shakedown: how well does it handle after someone’s put a few bullet holes in it?
In the same throwaway-but-still-fun fashion, the follow-up story shows Rally giving lessons at a gun range. The gag here is how she takes the time to deconstruct all those silly gun tricks you see in the movies: using two guns at once, aiming the gun sideways, etc. What makes it all the funnier is the context, since having someone in the Cats books bemoan how Hollywood has given people all the wrong ideas about handling guns is like a slasher-movie director griping about how violent entertainment has become these days. Of course, the whole chapter is played for knowing laughs, so it comes off as genuinely funny and interesting instead of possibly hypocritical.
Then, with the next chapter, the story proper kicks into high gear. Driver-for-hire Bean Bandit is irritated at how shilling-for-corrupt Chicago cop Detective Tracy has been squeezing him — all for the sake of hammering his clients, of course. One night over a Japanese dinner with Rally, ostensibly to clear the air between them, Bean admits to some fairly nefarious plans: He’s signed up for an illegal road race as a way to lure in Tracy and get him killed “by accident.” Tracy himself is in this to get a cut of the winnings from the race’s organizers, and has some blackmail of his own going on the side: if he dies, so do key family members of the organizers.
Rally abhors by the idea of being remotely involved in the killing a policeman, for any number of reasons you don’t have to dig very hard to get — not the least of which being that if she’s connected to something like that, she can kiss goodbye her career as a bounty hunter. But at the same time, she’s determined to find out how Bean knew Tracy would be in this race … and, if possible, avert a totally unneeded murder. That means Rally is enlisting in the race herself with, you guessed it, her brand-new Cobra.
The chase itself plays like loving homage to all those illegal car-chase movies you watched on TV as a kid: Gumball Rally, Gone in 60 Seconds (Sonoda has cited this as a favorite of his) and all the rest. It involves the drivers being coordinated by cellphone to change their routes on the fly to avoid cops, and a good deal of Sonoda’s patented car-action-scene mechanics, where knowing the limits of both your vehicle and the opposition is a key winning strategy. This is where we get the scene involving Bean grabbing an RPG nose-first when it’s launched at him, and it would be thoroughly absurd if we hadn’t already had it so firmly established that Bean is so tough that he probably pours milk over broken concrete and eats it for breakfast.
The end of the book is a bit of a cliffhanger — it ends the race, but the ante between Bean and Tracy (and Rally and Bean, and Rally and a great many other people) has been upped all the more. Just the thing to keep me reading, and the rest of the fans too.
The algebra for this series has remained wonderfully consistent from the beginning: cars, guns, girls, guys action, intrigue, all wrapped up in terrific art and delivered with bang-bang pacing. It’s a great way to spend $11 — or to go back to the start and empty your wallet entirely.