Lou Malloy: The Run Begins is the prequel to Dead Money Run, J. Frank James’ novel about the straight-talking criminal hard nut Lou Malloy, whose involvement in a $15 million heist lands him in prison for 15 years.

Set 15 years earlier, The Run Begins explains how Lou Malloy went from being a frustrated 18-year-old living with his parents, to a criminal willing to attempt a multi-million-dollar casino robbery.

As his parents prepare to move the family to Florida, much to the dismay of their children, Lou’s older brother decides to do a runner in the middle of the night. When his parents find out, they are understandably distraught, and Lou’s solution is to storm out of the house rather than face the music. He then makes another impulsive decision to leap onto a passing boxcar. On board is an old acquaintance, Henry Lowe, who persuades him to travel to Georgia with him – to attempt a massive casino heist. Needless to say, Lou doesn’t take much persuading. What could possibly go wrong?

At just 52 pages in length, The Run Begins serves as a short-but-sweet appetiser for those who are new to the Lou Malloy series, but it’s also likely to be popular with existing fans keen to learn about the events that led up to his life of crime.

I am of the former camp – until sitting down with The Run Begins I was a Lou Malloy virgin – but it didn’t take long for me to start enjoying the book, and this was for two reasons. The first is that James packs a whole lot of story into his 52 pages, whizzing through events at a suitably fast pace. I say ‘suitably’ because, as you may have guessed by now, Lou is a hot-headed young man who acts impulsively, talks with his fists and asks questions later. After all, why have a load of dense dialogue and detailed descriptions if your central character is a man of few words?

And that’s the second reason I enjoyed this novella. As someone who is probably the polar opposite to Lou – I’d be useless in a fight and would never have dreamt of running away from home when I was younger – I didn’t empathise with him particularly, but I did find his rebellious, ill-fated adventure to be a rather entertaining hour of escapism.

It’s worth noting that the author has also thrown in the first few pages of Dead Money Run at the end of the bookThe slight problem with this, however, is that The Run Begins stops just before the big heist takes place, and Dead Money Run starts 15 years after the heist, so it’s a little disorientating going from one to the other. In light of this, I suspect that it’s actually better to read Dead Money Run first. Either way, on its own merits, Lou Malloy: The Run Begins is certainly a fun way to spend an hour or two.