In The Last Whisper in the Dark, Tom Piccirilli's second novel about the criminal Rand family, prodigal thief Terrier Rand comes home (available July 9, 2013).
The Last Whisper in the Dark is a direct sequel to Tom Piccirilli’s The Last Kind Words, a noirish thriller about a family of thieves and grifters, the Rands, whose son Collie went on a killing spree. Collie’s brother Terrier, who’d tried to get away from crime for several years, was drawn back in to fulfill Collie’s last request before execution. Terrier, called Terry, is the protagonist of the sequel.
Because of a web of obligation, Terry serves as protector for an old friend, Chub, who happens to be married to a woman Terry loved and left. Terry’s devotion to the bonds of family and affiliates means he must strive to protect even those for whom he is no longer necessarily responsible. His strict code of honor seems to set him apart from the underground world in which he lives, populated by a wide cast of characters from John F. Kennedy, the Staffordshire Terrier, to his mother’s estranged family, to his Alzheimer’s-suffering grandfather.
In fact, honor among thieves is a running theme, as are Terry’s struggles with his identity both as part of his family and as part of the criminal underworld. The story becomes even more complicated when Terry meets some of his maternal relatives, who have their own issues.
I particularly admired the way Piccirilli described his settings. He has a deft hand with delineating a noir world with dingy décor and dubious characters using clever twists of phrase and grim humor.
The Elbow Room was where I went to ask the questions that had no answer. It’s where I went to think of my brother and to forget about my brother. It’s where I went when I needed to take a breath and line up the next move.
…It was the lowest dive around. It had gotten even worse since the last time I’d had a drink here months ago.
Desperate men sat in the back corners muttering about their worst mistakes. A few halfhearted games of pool were being shot. The whores worked the losers a little more brazenly than was usual….
The jukebox pounded out a heavy bass riff. It was something designed to kick college girl strippers into high gear, except this wasn’t a strip club. I didn’t know what the music was supposed to do for the rest of us. The drunk mooks eyed the hookers, the burnt lady barflies, and each other. Everybody seemed to want to throw themselves on the floor….
I glanced at the register. I always checked the register, wherever I went. It was instinct.
… I split for the corner of the bar, the darkest spot in the entire room.
I didn’t see her sitting beside me until my eyes adjusted to the darkness. Then it seemed bright as noon and I realized most of the mooks were looking this way. I’d sat in a holy place of honor.
She waited there on her stool just out of arm’s reach, drawing as much attention as if she posed in a spotlight. Every other man in the room looked on mournfully. They stared, none of them canny enough use the bar mirror to watch her…Compared to the waxy-lipped women cadging drinks and sneaking bills off the bar top she looked like paradise in three-inch pumps.
Terry struggles with his place in the world throughout the novel, not only in the world of bars like the Elbow Room, but among his own family and when dealing with outsiders with a different moral compass. The ethical dilemmas of noir are here explored through Terry’s own issues, some from the plot of this novel and some lingering from The Last Kind Words. Fans of noir as well as crime stories should enjoy the complex moral shadings of Piccirilli’s work.
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