by Tom Piccirilli
Bantam Books, 2012, $26.00, 320pp
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
The year of 2012 was both a great year and a severely tough one for author Tom Piccirilli (Shadow Season, The Midnight Road, The Cold Spot, and The Coldest Mile). It was the year he wrote his best novel to date, The Last Kind Words, and also the year he suffered a traumatic health crisis, which nearly took his life. Today Tom is doing much better and presently working on the third novel in the “Rand” series. The second novel, The Last Whisper in the Dark, came out earlier this summer, and is one I plan to review within the month.
The first novel in the “Rand” series is The Last Kind Words. It’s written with such precision and beauty that the words almost take your breath away. This is a particular skill that an author learns over a period of time as he learns his craft with the written word. Not everyone makes it, but Tom Piccirilli is now at the top of his craft and is certainly a master of the crime noir novel.
The storyline is this novel revolves around Terrier (Terry) Rand who left his family and girlfriend behind for five long years, leaving no address to find him at and not caring if he ever saw them again. But, of course, Terry does yearn for his family and the woman he still loves. All it takes is a telephone call from his sister, Dale, explaining that his brother, Collie, who’s on Death Row, needs to see him one last time before he dies.
Terry drives across country in a mad rush to get home and to find out what Collie wants to see him about, surprised that his brother went on a killing spree and murdered several innocent people, including an elderly lady and a child. It makes Terry want to throw up. Once Terry reaches the home of his parents, he quickly discovers that little has changed with his family, who come from generations of profession thieves, and yet everything has changed, if you look more closely with a skilled eye.
His mom seems to be barely holding the family together. His dad, Pinsch, who disliked stealing, has stopped casing places late at night. Terry’s sister, Dale, has gotten older, smarter, and more beautiful, and is also dating a young punk who thinks he’s Butch Cassidy. Terry’s grandfather, Shep, is losing his mind to old age, but every once in a while, the real Shep appears when most needed. His father’s brothers, Grey and Mal, are still the best at cheating when it comes to playing cards. The only thing is that Mal has taken a local mob boss for forty thousand dollars, and the guy wants his money back or else.
On top of everything, when Terry finally has a sit down with his brother, Collie, he discovers that his sibling actually admits to killing everyone he’s charged for, except a young girl. Collie claims he didn’t kill her and that the real murderer is still out there, performing his handiwork on unsuspecting females. Collie wants Terry to find the serial killer and put him down.
And, to add the dessert to the main feast, Terry’s former best friend, Chub, has now married the woman (Kimmie) he left behind after she had a miscarriage. This might even be the hardest thing Terry has to deal with because he still loves Kimmie and knows he doesn’t deserve to be around her.
Yep, Terry is back home, and he doesn’t know what to believe, or whom to trust, or what in the hell to do. It all looks like one big, damn mess, and it isn’t long before he starts thinking about getting out of Dodge again. The only thing that stops him from leaving is his sense that blood always wins out in the end, and, of course, his love for Kimmie.
Tom Piccirilli, who started out writing horror fiction back in the nineties, made his first major mark on the crime noir genre with the publication of The Cold Spot, which was quickly followed by The Coldest Mile. Though I was a big fan of horror fiction, I’d never read any of Tom’s novels before The Cold Spot. It’s strange that I first became a fan of his through crime noir fiction, rather than horror. In reading The Cold Spot and The Coldest Mile, I became not only an instant fan, but an avid fan as well. Tom’s writing reminded me of a superior, grittier Mickey Spillane with a little bit of John D. MacDonald thrown into the mix and stirred around. I guess you could say it was kind of in your face. The author’s own unique style of writing and his original storylines made me search out his previous novels and to buy his newer ones as they eventually came out.
With the publication of The Last Kind World, I was superstitious about even opening the book, afraid that Tom wouldn’t recover from his illness. When he finally got better, his second novel in the series, The Last Whisper in the Dark, came out, and I knew it okay to start reading his fiction again…that Tom was here for the duration.
I have to say that the first few pages of The Last Kind Word blew me away with their sheer elegance and profound sense of crime noir fiction. After having read thousands of novels over the last fifty years, I instantly recognized a master craftsman at work within these pages. I even read some of the words out loud, delighting in the feel of them and how they rolled off my tongue.
As I got deeper into the novel, I began to identify with not only Terry Rand, but also with many of the other characters in his family. Tom Piccirilli has a certain magic with how he creates different and unique characters within his stories, making them come alive with their inner strengths and outward weaknesses. These are everyday people who just happen to live on the wrong side of the law. Otherwise, they could easily be your next-door neighbor.
Tom never disappoints as he leads you on a journey of inner discovery because the people in his stories are simply reflections of our own true selves. We learn to take a harder look at our own anger and follies, trying to find that person inside that we can be proud of. Sometimes the main characters in Tom’s books have to do bad things to keep worse things from happening. Life is never easy. You have to take it by the horns and twist its head, until it’s forced into submission, or you’re beaten down by it.
Terry Rand is no different from you or me as he seeks to discover the truth about his brother, Collie, and to do the right thing in the end, even though it nearly destroys him.
Life’s lessons are what great writing is about. You certainly can’t go wrong with a novel by Tom Piccirilli, and you might just learn something about yourself in the process.
Just to let you know, the tale of Terry Rand continues in The Last Whisper in the Dark when the husband of the woman he loves, disappears with a hard-hitting crew of killers after him. Terry has to bring Chub back for Kimmie and her daughter, no matter the cost to himself and those around him.
Great reading and highly recommend!