Break Point (Billy Beckett #4), by Kelly Hodge

Eight stars

A longtime fan of the work of Scott Pratt, I was drawn to the Billy Beckett series, which included collaboration with Kelly Hodge. After Pratt’s death, Hodge continued to pen novels in the series and make it his own. Usually wary of ‘post-death continuations’, I kept reading with trepidation, but Hodge proved to me that things were in good hands. Billy Beckett is a sports agent always looking for the next big star. His latest client is a nineteen-year-old tennis phenom with goals of storming onto the scene at the Australian Open. However, there are some hurdles keeping him from reaching his potential. A friend of Beckett’s is keen to see how things will progress, but must also deal with some troubling news within the trucking business he owns. Could there be more than meets the eye in the transport trailers and, if so, who is heading the illegal operation? Hodge does well with this, his first solo endeavour in the series.

Billy Beckett knows talent when he sees it, even if his clients cannot see the larger picture. He does his best to hone in on the possibilities, but is keenly aware that there are more hurdles out there than most expect to find. With a tennis star in the making, Beckett wants his client to reach for the stars, which begins with a spot in the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the season.

While Beckett mulls this over, his close friend, Zander, has issues of his own to confess. Zander’s trucking company has suffered some losses after one trucker was found murdered in rural Missouri. The authorities believe it may have been tied to drug trafficking, something about which Zander knows nothing. However, it is worth investigating a little more.

It would seem that transporting items across state lines by truck is a reasonable way to do business. Someone’s taken it upon themselves to slide in some illicit drugs with various loads, from marijuana to cocaine, all in an effort to build their own empire. But loose lips are making things a little more difficult and people need to be terminated to keep the leaks from spreading.

While Billy works with is client, Zander must get to the root of the issue and solve the problem before his empire goes down the tubes. The trouble is, doing so might mean ruining the future for Billy’s latest client. It will certainly be a gamble either way and no one knows what to expect.

I know I did not do justice to the plot summary above, but rest assured that Kelly Hodge knows what he’s doing with this series. The stories are rich with action and strong sports themes, keeping the reader engaged and curious about what is to come. A great narrative rhythm keeps things flowing and character development is non-stop throughout. I can only hope that Hodge, an independent author, will keep churning out stories and get them out to the public!

Billy Beckett is a no-nonsense kind of guy, but always seems to be putting out fires to help his clients. Few know how to handle fame, which is where Beckett comes in. He has his eye on the prize, even when the athletes are diverted by their own foibles. Beckett’s character may not be front and centre throughout, but there is some decent development in the story. He knows what to do and how to make it click, though remains humble about it as much as possible. There is some great personal and professional development in the story, leaving the door open to possibilities as the series (hopefully) continues.

As I said above, I only came to know of Kelly Hodge through his collaborative work with Scott Pratt. That being said, Hodge has made an impact on me, such that I want to keep reading whatever he publishes. This story, seemingly his first solo effort (without collaboration with Pratt since the author’s death), proves to be just as strong as the previous three novels and keeps the momentum needed to create a great thriller. The narrative flows well and uses short chapters to tease the reader. There is a strong plot that continues to develop and some unknowns that must be resolved in short order. Those looking for a complex thriller can look elsewhere, but there is something in here for the reader who wants entertainment and an easy to digest novel. A great way for me to begin a new reading year!

Kudos, Mr. Hodge, for this wonderful story. I can only hope Billy will be back soon, with more to share!

Ripcord (Billy Beckett #3), by Kelly Hodge (and Scott Pratt)

Eight stars

Continuing the series he and Scott Pratt seemingly began together, Kelly Hodge adds a new instalment to the Billy Beckett collection with another winner. Working a crime thriller angle I have not seen before, Hodge keeps the story moving along while entertaining the reader throughout. Billy Beckett is quite the sports agent, trying to get his business to gain momentum with relative success. Having found and signed Russell Mann when he was an undrafted free agent, Beckett and his client are set to negotiate a juicy new contract. Mann has taken the basketball world by storm and he is ready to ink a multi-million dollar deal. Off the court, Mann seems to still be holding onto his Bronx roots, interacting with men from the old neighbourhood. After a number of incidents on Orlando’s streets turn deadly, there is talk that Mann could have been present, though no concrete proof is ever found. This worries Beckett, but his client reassures him that he was nowhere near the scene of any crimes. Inching closer to contract negotiations, Beckett tries to see the best in his client while he worries about the other items on his plate. A former lover of his has up and disappeared, but has been sighted around the country. Her parents ask Beckett to help, but he is not entirely sure he wants to stir anything up. Beckett’s partner is looking to diversify outside the sports industry, tapping into the music scene in Nashville. Beckett remains tepid about the idea, but perhaps a rebranding is just what he needs. If that were not enough, issues in Beckett’s personal life have his focus unclear. When Beckett receives a call from a woman demanding money to stay quiet after she saw Russell Mann at the scene of a crime, he must decide if he is willing to stay quiet and guarantee himself a massive new paycheque after a contract signing, or if Mann should be outed and potentially sent away. All this weighs heavily on Beckett’s mind as he tries to do what’s best. A great new novel that keeps the high quality that Scott Pratt made popular alive, Kelly Hodge offers readers something worthwhile. Recommended to those who love a great crime thriller that is fairly light, as well as readers who have come to love Scott Pratt’s Nashville based novels over the years.

I took to this new series with ease, sensing a similar style to many of the Scott Pratt novels I enjoyed over the years. The story flows well and the characters have something captivating about them. Billy Beckett may be a sports agent, but he is also quite relatable as a protagonist. While he has an obvious focus on his work, Beckett has a softer and more pleasant side and his personality shines through. Hodge offers an emotional angle as well, with Beckett trying to come to terms with the news he is offered, seeking to balance work and personal. Others offer their own angles in this piece, flavouring the story effectively and keeping the reader wanting to know more about what is going on. The story clips along well and the reader will soon be subsumed in all that is going on, reading and enjoying the narrative as it flows. There is little doubt the short chapters help push the story forward and the reader will likely mutter ‘just a little more’ if only to themselves. Hodge has done well to keep things light, without getting silly, as he tackles some substantial issues throughout the book, which can be tackled in short order for those who have a few hours to kill. I look forward to move from Billy Beckett, through the writing of Kelly Hodge, in the near future.

Kudos, Mr. Hodge, for another greater piece. Scott Pratt would be proud at how you are keeping his legacy alive!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Quiet Fury (Billy Beckett #2), by Kelly Hodge

Eight stars

Kelly Hodge penned a wonderful series debut (even though I feel it fell under a slight shadow of controversy) that had me rushing to find this sequel, where the reader is treated to the same high quality. Billy Beckett is a sports agent with a passion for the job and has been making quite a name for himself with a number of headline-grabbing clients. With a past life in the legal field, Beckett knows the pitfalls of dealing with agreements and negotiating settlements, as well as trying to keep clients from jumping at the first sign of money. Beckett is still reeling from the drama to years before when a college football superstar was kidnapped from his own property. Now, he finds himself in rural Tennessee, fly fishing with a man he’s just met. Eric ‘Sheriff’ Sampson has quite the pitch for the agent extraordinaire; represent his up-and-coming granddaughter, MMA fighter Cassie Haynes. The world of mixed martial arts is still fairly new and one in which Billy is not entirely comfortable, but he’s happy to meet with her to see what might be done. However, Billy is called back to Knoxville when one of his clients is arrested for first-degree murder outside Houston. A rookie pitcher for the Houston Astros was seen arguing with a man on the owner’s property and allegedly tied him to the back of his truck. When all was said and done, the victim had been dragged to his death. While the Astros want their rookie sensation to help the franchise, they are less than willing to provide him with stellar legal representation. Billy rushes to help, seeing just how inept things are for his client. As the case is shaping up, things take a tragic turn and Billy is left to wonder if he can prove his client’s innocence posthumously. Licking his wounds, Billy heads to Las Vegas to see his potential client fight in the octagon, hoping to help her create an image as she seeks to climb the rungs towards winning the title. With Sheriff in the crowd and by her side Cassie Haynes has much potential, but a handful of family secrets, both in the past and at present, may unravel a career that is just getting started. Billy Beckett cannot know what awaits him, though he should be ready for any pitfall, even those that masquerade as bumps in the road. Another stellar novel in the series that will have fans of the debut wanting to get their hands on this one. Recommended for those who like something a little different in their mysteries.

Just as I devoured the series debut, I was able to finish this piece in a single day. Hodge has the skill to stand on his own and will surely become a wonderful author in his own right. The recent loss of his mentor (part of the aforementioned controversy) has left Hodge to fend on his own, but this publication shows that he has what it takes to compete with others in the genre. Billy Beckett is a great protagonist, dedicated to his craft and enjoys rubbing elbows with the sports elite. He shows the ability to juggle many clients and their myriad of issues all at once, which benefits the reader seeking a few sub-plots to propel the story forward. There is much to learn about Beckett’s backstory, though tragedy showed itself in the debut novel. Hodge focuses his attention on development, both as an agent and a man seeking to define himself in this novel. Love, dedication, and passion for what is right drive Billy Beckett on a daily basis. Others make their presence known in this series that is full of unique characters who enrich the story in their own way. A handful of athletes in their own situations provide the reader with a cross-section of interesting personalities that flavour the narrative at each page turn. The premise of the series was a little wobbly for me in the debut, but Hodge has defined it here in this novel that is much stronger. Sports agent may sound flaky for a protagonist, but the storylines work well together, meshing and compartmentalising themselves when it is needed. With short chapters and a great sense of influence by his mentor, Hodge offers readers a wonderful style and develops plots with ease. I can only hope that Hodge will keep writing and creating more Billy Beckett intrigue, as I am a real fan of these stories, two novels in!

Kudos, Mr. Hodge, on a great continuation of the series. I noticed you pushed out two novels in short order and have been silent for almost three years. More to come?! I heard a rumour you were taking over for your mentor and developing some of his unfinished work.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Deep Threat (Billy Beckett #1), by Scott Pratt and Kelly Hodge

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Scott Pratt, I was sorry to hear of his passing last year. That being said, it would seem his family and Kelly Hodge have worked tirelessly to get some of Pratt’s final manuscripts published for his adoring fans. This books proves to be the debut in a series that could (?) span at least a few books, should Hodge and the powers that be allow it. Billy Beckett is a sports agent with a passion for the job. Having once worked in the legal field, Beckett knows the pitfalls of dealing with agreements and negotiating settlements. Beckett has been trying to pave the way towards signing college football superstar Jarvis Thompson, sure to make it in the NFL. After a decisive upset win now Saturday, Beckett’s brother, John, is found in a pool of blood and Jarvis was the last person seen with him. While John is somewhat vague about what happened, the cocaine found on his person tells quite a story. Add to that, Jarvis Thompson is nowhere to be found. Was there some drug-related skirmish or has something happened to the college star? Not wasting any time, Billy Beckett takes up the search, which leads to interesting evidence and whispers about a mob boss in New Orleans. As the country holds its collective breath, Billy must find his potential client while uncovering a larger plot that puts him in the crosshairs. An interesting launch of a new series that permits Scott Pratt to go out with a bang. Those who have come to enjoy Pratt’s work will likely enjoy the collaborative effort and want to get their hands on this piece.

It’s always troublesome for a reader to discover that an author they enjoy has passed away, particularly when there is a body of unfinished work. A few authors I follow have had others pick up the torch and ruin a series, as if they were ‘Bourne’ to act as kamikaze author. Hodge seems not to be intent on ruining much of anything, having shaped and sculpted this debut in Pratt’s image. The humour is there, as well as the quick wit and great narrative delivery. With a potential series in the making, one needs to focus some attention on Billy Beckett, who has all the tools to serve as an interesting series protagonist. He is surely dedicated to his craft and enjoys rubbing elbows with the sports elite, wooing them at every turn. However, a connection to the mob, albeit tangential, could prove to be a fallback for Beckett as the series progresses. There is much to learn about Beckett’s backstory, which I hope Hodge will develop throughout the coming novels, but the fact that I am curious serves to show that there is potential here. Others make their presence known in this series that is full of unique characters who enrich the story in their own way. Pratt’s use of Tennessee is here in spades, with many holding onto that southern passion. There are a handful of characters whose stories I hope will be built upon, as they would make wonderful supporting characters, given the time. The premise is still one that I am not sure I am sold on, though how does one use a sports agent to serve as regular investigator. I am sure Kelly Hodge has a plan and I am willing to give him a chance to show it, if for no other reason than I thoroughly enjoyed the work of the late Scott Pratt.

Kudos, Messrs. Pratt and Hodge, on a great start to the series. You will be missed, Scott, and I can only hope this will get others interested in checking out some of your solo work, as well as seeing where Kelly takes things!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: