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Dear Diary: Run Like Hell Review

James A. Moore’s Dear Diary: Run Like Hell is one of those books that makes you really grateful you’re not its protagonist.

On a mission gone wrong, half-time hitman and half-time dance instructor Buddy Fisk kills a man in self-defense after nearly missing his intended target. As it turns out, while his target was a nobody, the other man he killed was family to one Anton Naheel, a man as violently insane as he is indestructible. Now, Fisk must find a way to kill the unkillable if he wants to live much longer.

By the way, when I use words like “indestructible” and “unkillable,” those aren’t hyperbole. The first thing you need to know before going into this book is that it isn’t a standard man-on-the-run crime thriller. In fact, there isn’t much standard about it at all.

Run Like Hell is like a stew of genres where each one is mixed in just right. Crime, action, thriller, horror, and even comedy, to an extent, make up the lifeblood of the book’s DNA, making the whole thing feel fresh and lush with personality.

Speaking of personality, let’s talk about the protagonist for a bit. Buddy Fisk is a character steeped heavily in contradictions and duality. We don’t even know his real name, as Buddy Fisk is more like the Batman to his Bruce Wayne (or the other way around, depending on your disposition), a persona created separate from his original identity so he can do a job. His real love is teaching kids to dance; killing is just a way to pay the bills.

What’s so interesting about Fisk as a character is that he’s fully aware he’s a bad guy. Killing people for a living isn’t noble in any definition of the word, something Fisk is very much aware of. He’s not evil by any stretch of the imagination but also can in no way be described as a good person. This self-awareness, combined with his seasoned killer attitude, makes for narration that never feels boring or trite.

My only complaint about Fisk doesn’t actually have anything to do with his characterization. Rather, my problem comes from how we never see him outside his Buddy Fisk role. We hear so much from him about having to separate both lives but never actually see both. While I’m aware that’s not really what the book is about, it still feels like an area that should be expanded on some more, even if only for a few paragraphs.

On the subject of complaints, the first fifth or so of the book is a prologue of sorts that could be outright removed, and it really wouldn’t change much of anything. Most of the exposition established there is mentioned in places throughout the rest of the story in ways that feel far more natural from a narrative perspective. Sometimes less is more, and I feel like this is one of those situations where there was more than needed.

As much as I’ve praised the characterization and genre mixing, the true strength of Run Like Hell is found in its violence. There is a lot of violence in this book, ranging from brutal fistfights and torture to intense shootouts and chases. All of it feels equally visceral, with moments that hit so hard you might find yourself gritting your teeth at their sheer savagery.

All of it feels equally visceral, with moments that hit so hard you might find yourself gritting your teeth at their sheer savagery.

Taking things to an even higher level is how all of the action feels so cinematic. The descriptions are created so that you can easily see it all playing out in your head like a movie. There are times when action sequences go on for pages, but even then, they somehow never manage to wear off their welcome.

I mentioned before that this isn’t your standard man-on-the-run sort of deal, and that’s because of the plethora of supernatural elements. Without going into too much detail or giving too much away, there is a ton of world-building going on. Concepts like demons, hell, familiars, and magic are very much alive and kicking in the world of Run Like Hell.

While we see many of these elements pop up in the narrative, what really makes them work is how they illicit a feeling that there is so much more going on that we can’t see. It’s like there are forces darker and more sinister bubbling beneath the surface of the story hiding in the shadows of its world, just waiting for their chance to bite.

I really dug Dear Diary: Run Like Hell. It’s one of those stories that mixes hard realism with fantastical elements that scratches a very particular itch. As odd as it might sound, if you’re a fan of the long-running series Supernatural (2005) or movies like Overlord (2018), you might find a lot to love here.