Last Call for the Living by Peter Farris is a southern noir thriller, a novel of psychological terror and suspense (available May 22, 2012).
Last Call for the Living is not your momma’s mystery. Heroes are in short supply in this dark, gritty, southern noir grinder of a novel, but the characters who populate it, and their strong but strange bonds, make the novel a standout in its field.
At the center, there’s Charlie Colquitt, who goes to his job as a bank teller on a Saturday morning only to be kidnapped at gunpoint by Aryan Brotherhood member and ex-con Hobe Hicklin. Charlie is a bit of a savant, smothered by the fierce, protective love of his mother, and all he wants to do is build rockets. Life is pretty simple, if a bit staid, and it’s all he knows.
Charlie showered and dressed for work. Slacks, a shirt and tie—the Spartan attire of an office drone. He bought most of his clothes at Walmart and never gave much thought to the brands or if the combinations matched. His dress shoes were dusty and scuffed. No matter. The customers at the bank never saw his feet anyway.
Charlie poured a bowl of cereal and ate in silence.
The shopping bag on the coffee table contained a new boost glider with a pop pod and a small-scale Tomahawk rocket kit with a parachute recovery. He went every Thursday to the hobby store. Didn’t always buy something. A lot of times he just walked down the aisles, admiring the X-ACTO knives and glue and kits in their colorful cardboard boxes. Like an aspiring writer visiting the local bookstore, wishing his name were one of those on the shelves. After some custom modifications, Charlie planned to take his most recent purchase to the park by the mountain. Maybe after work.
Maybe after Momma.
School. Work. And Momma. His life distilled.
He owned a television but rarely watched it, having little use for the shows and movies his classmates endlessly referenced. Charlie was never one to share a joke with, and certainly not the person to turn to with a conversation-starting Did you see that bit on so and so last night. . .
Humor for him was a reaction to humor in others, not an understanding of it. Charlie’s laugh—on the rare occasion that he let one out—was tempered by vacuity, an embarrassingly idiotic noise, geeky and loud, like a mule getting tickled to death.
Yet Charlie was a fine conversationalist, if a person was willing to discuss point-mass approximation altitude, spin rate and oscillation frequency.
In the ramshackle cabin where Hicklin is keeping Charlie hostage, the author immerses us in another type of character altogether: the miserable ruin that is Hicklin’s life, and the torment that he inflicts on Charlie because it’s all he’s ever known in his own wasted life.
Peter Farris puts you right in the thick of those Georgia woods and you’ll feel every bit of despair that Charlie does in Hicklin’s hands. To be certain, this is noir, but it’s the southern feel of this book that’s almost a character all its own. The stifling heat is a force of nature, shortening tempers and conjuring scenes of desperation and despair.
Hicklin tamped out his cigarette in the ashtray and promptly lit another. The heat was creeping up on everything. One of those sticky summer mornings that called for a change of clothes. He was used to it, having been born and raised in Jubilation County, his body attuned to breaking that first sweat in May, and not stopping until mid-October.
Hicklin represents nearly everything you think of when you hear “backwoods Georgia”, but he’s a bit more than that, and it’s a rare author that can make you feel for someone that’s as cruel as Hobe Hicklin, and strangely enough, Charlie begins to find himself fascinated with his captor.
“I been in love,” Hicklin said, as if he’d been asked. “Loved men and women. People who done time, real time, know love better than anyone.”
Charlie shook his head.
“I can’t imagine murderers and thieves and rapists being very loving.”
“You’d be surprised,” Hicklin said, his mood still far from agreeable. “Convicts understand love, sex, power, fear, death better than most people. They get distilled within a prison population. Get more intense. I’ve seen love between two convicts as heavy as any married couple . . . seen fear come off a person like vapor. Watched men die with a big bad look in their eyes.”
Hicklin is a hunter, and in his element, but he’s also the hunted, and he’s as damaged—and as tough—as they come.
Hicklin rose and stretched, fetched another beer from the cooler.
He began to pace, tiger-walking as if the cottage were a cage. The muscles in Hicklin’s forearms and shoulders seemed to pop and writhe with every movement. Charlie watched him, noticing Hicklin’s tattoos in greater detail, a few so intricate they seemed like a picture show on flesh, a righteous hatred in the details. He found Hicklin’s gait strange. The man walked with a swagger, guarded, like a lion stalking the fringes of a pride area.
In Last Call for the Living the action is intense, but it’s the strange bond that forms between captor and captive that will grip you. It’s a raw and frantic race to an explosive finish in this gritty and fascinating southern noir gem.