Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Review: The Last Kind Words

The Last Kind Words The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s hard to be a black sheep in a family of thieves and swindlers, but Collie Rand managed to pull it off by going on a murder spree during which he killed several innocent people including a child.

Terrier Rand couldn’t cope with what his brother did and took off for five years, but with the execution date approaching he reluctantly comes home when Collie asks to see him. Collie tells Terry that while he’s guilty of most of crimes that he didn’t kill one young woman that was pinned on him, and that he fears that a serial killer may be out there commiting more murders.

Collie has a long history of play mind games as well as being a homicidal jerkface so Terry doubts his brother, and his homecoming isn’t a pleasant trip down memory lane. He finds his family still reeling with the shock and shame of Collie’s crimes as well as other issues, and he’s still in love with the woman he skipped out on even though she married one of his best friends. As he tries to help his family pull the pieces back together and come to terms with his past Terry begins looking into the possibility that Collie is telling the truth about another killer.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about the late Tom Piccirilli, but while there was a lot I liked in this it also had a lot of elements that didn’t work for me. The idea of a guy raised by a family of criminals coming home and investigating a murder is a nice hook, and the writing is very solid overall. However, I had a lot of problems with the tone of the book.

As our first person narrator we spend the entire book with Terry’s angst, and that’s understandable to some extent. If this was straight-up character based crime fiction, like from a Richard Price type of ultra realistic story, then it’d be fine and Piccirilli kinda gets there. Yet it’s also got this kind of gimmicky criminal underworld thing that seems more like something that belong in a Richard Stark novel or a John Wick movie. There’s so much stuff like that from the way the whole Rand family is named after types of dogs to the descriptions of their house being stuffed with hidden spaces filled with loot from heists over the years. (You’d think a family of known thieves wouldn’t want a house filled with evidence of their crimes.) Again, if that’s what you’re going for and you put a criminal playing detective in that world then that’s a solid idea.

But trying to mix serious character drama with a guy brooding about his family and his regrets doesn’t sync up with a story about thieves who seem to have been imported from a pulp novel. Then you add in the serial killer story which gets pretty stupid and melodramatic in the end, and it just feels like a lot of scattered elements that don’t work well together.

It’s also possible that I’m still so creeped out from reading I'll Be Gone in the Dark a few weeks ago that I refuse to sympathize with a guy who breaks into people’s houses when they’re sleeping. Whatever the reason, this one didn’t live up to a strong start for me.

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