Written by Tom Piccirilli — The buzz about this book has been building in my household throughout the summer. I’ve read a lot of what Tom Piccirilli has written – hardboiled or horror – and rarely been disappointed. When Crime Fiction Lover favourites like Lee Child and Megan Abbott began to sing its praises, my anticipation reached boiling point. Having finally gotten my self a copy, I dug straight in.
Straight away we are in prime Piccirilli territory. The author has returned to his theme of dysfunctional families. He’s a master in this realm, and if you don’t believe me read The Cold Spot and The Coldest Mile. For my money, only Peter Temple writes about men and how they (can’t) relate better.
The Rands used to be a close-knit family, literally thick as thieves. One night five years ago all that changed. Eldest son Collie – yes, they’re all named after dogs – went on a senseless killing spree and eight people died. His only explanation that he’d been brought down by ‘the underneath’, a kind of mania where all reason is lost. The Rands, as professional criminals, work hard to avoid ‘the underneath’.
Since then the patriarch Shep has developed Alzheimer’s and only his pick-pocket skills remain. Pinsch, Collie’s father and, ironically, a cat-burglar, is too broken hearted to keep prowling. Uncles Mal and Grey are still doing well as card sharps, but are in trouble for fleecing the local mafia in an illegal game. Brother Terry has quit the bent life and moved to another state to work as a farmer, disgusted and ashamed about what happened. And teenage sister Dale is taking her own first, tentative steps into a life of crime but making bad choices about who is going to teach her.
Terry is the main protagonist, and he finds himself reluctantly drawn back to the family with a summons from Collie, who has only days before his execution. Though Collie still has no better explanation for what he did, he is adamant that he only killed seven people. So, somebody out there is getting away with murder and he wants Terry to investigate. All Terry’s instincts tell him his brother is just playing games and to get back to the straight life, but blood is thicker than water. He is manipulated into staying, his family expertly playing on his guilt and sense of responsibility. Murderers never want to be found, though, so Terry will have to call on all his old criminal guile and instinct if he is to survive.
Piccirilli delivers a cracking mystery. There are plenty of suspects both inside and outside the Rand family and the ending is a tense surprise. This is so much more than a straight thriller. The author skilfully draws all of the characters and their complex and competing motivations are clearly shown. The prose is a delight and the depth of the book rewards careful reading. If you are after a cracking suspenseful mystery in a distinctive setting, this book delivers. However, if you fancy a change of pace and want to read a book with an emotional depth that will resonate for a long time, this book delivers that as well.
Bow down to the bow-wow because, if you will forgive me, The Last Kind Words is the mutt’s nuts.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars