Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book Review: "The Last Kind Words" by Tom Piccirilli

So let's get this out of the way: nearly every member of the main family in this book, The Rands, are named for dog breeds. It's a somewhat bizarre affectation that sometimes proves a little distracting, but don't let that stop you from reading this fantastic, brooding book from Tom Piccirilli.

Terry (Terrier) Rand was born into a family of thieves. His father, Pinsch (Pinscher), was a cat burglar who never seemed entirely enamored of the life; his uncles, Mal (Malamute) and Grey (Greyhound), always larger-than-life presences as he grew up, have expertise as card sharks; even his grandfather, Shep (Shepherd), in the throes of Alzheimer's, used to be a force to be reckoned with, and his fingers can still pick a pocket fairly well from time to time. Terry had no choice but to fall into the life, running scams (mostly successfully), running with—and sometimes against—the local crime family.

Terry fled his family's Long Island home five years ago, after his older brother, Collie, went on a murderous rage that left eight people dead. Collie and Terry were more like combative rivals than brothers; Collie wanted—and took—everything that Terry had, and left him holding the bag on more than one occasion. Terry left without warning and never contacted his family, even leaving his fiancée, Kimmy, behind. But now Collie is only days from his execution, and he has had Terry summoned home.

Collie lets Terry know that while he is guilty of seven murders, he did not kill a young woman whose death he is also accused of. Although he never disputed it during his trial, he has learned that other young women who looked similar to his victim have met a similar end. While he isn't interested in a new trial or a stay of execution, he wants Terry to investigate and find out the truth.

But the truth—of this crime, and his difficult relationship with Collie and his family—is something Terry isn't quite ready to delve into again. He finds himself falling back into familiar patterns, as he runs afoul of the local crime family who are now onto his uncles; tries to fight the tide of crime that holds him in its thrall; worries about his teenage sister, who is on the verge of entering the same life as the rest of their family; and relives the pain and anguish he felt in leaving Kimmy behind. He knows he needs to break free of all of this, but can't, and while he can't understand what Collie's real motivation for calling him back to town was, he can't resist trying to find out the truth, no matter where it leads.

The Last Kind Words is a meditation on the power of family and how strong the ties that bind us are, no matter how hard we struggle to fight or how far we run to flee them. Terry is smart enough to know where he will go wrong but finds himself powerless to stop heading in that direction.

I've been a big fan of Piccirilli's books for a while now, and this is a truly fantastic one, full of crackling violence, suspense, and brooding introspection that really works. There is always an undercurrent of violence simmering just underneath the surface of the story, and Piccirilli's writing style leaves you wondering just how things will unfold. How far will Terry find himself twisted in the knots of his family and his past?

This is a smart, tremendously well-written crime novel that is more introspective than most, but it still has enough tension and violence to satisfy. So put the whole dog names thing out of your mind, and settle in for a fantastic read.

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