A copy of Benevolent King was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Benevolent King is my second time reading something by Joe Albanese, the first time being Caina. Unlike Caina, Benevolent King is a full-fledged novel rather than a novella. The genre is also a bit different; while both are crime stories, Caina was more of a mystery story while Benevolent King is a thriller. This story is more about suspense and focuses its attention across an array of characters. It is not really about just one person, but rather one story. And how all the different characters are connected through that story’s telling.
This book takes place in Baltimore, which is a great setting for crime fiction for obvious reasons. More importantly, it takes place in the bad parts of Baltimore. The places filled with desperate people who scare the daylights out of “normal” folks. In fact, there really are not many normal people throughout Benevolent King. Some pop up here and there, mostly as background characters, but the cast is almost entirely made of criminal underworld elements. Even the normal people who are not merely background are only minor characters.
Despite how all the characters could be described as “a criminal”, the characters are incredibly diverse. The key factor here is why each character is a criminal. Some live that way because they have no choice, or at least think they have no choice. Others chose this lifestyle because things outside the law like drugs and violence appeal to them. There is a wide gap between the people who seek power and the people who just want to survive. Not to mention the relative isolation of the characters from the rest of the world as the city does its best to ignore them or sweep them under the rug.
While certain elements of Benevolent King are exaggerated, everything in this novel is real. That goes without saying for Baltimore’s crime rate (although the level of homicide in this book teetered on the edge of believability). It is also true for the Colombian Devil’s Breath drug. While the effects are exaggerated for the sake of the story, it is a real drug with similar effects.
On the whole, Benevolent King shows how Joe Albanese is improving as his career a writer continues. The extra page count of a novel vs. a novella really gave him the chance to spread his wings. There was more room for character development, story progression, and everything else that makes any novel great. This is a good story that shows a side of society rarely if ever seen by most people. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.