Order Here: The Cold Spot by Tom Piccirilli
Chase is smart enough to be a wheel man for his grandfather Jonah, as hard an SOB as you’ll find in noir fiction, but not smart enough to get out of the business. After he finds himself on the outs with Jonah, Chase strikes out on his own and heads south, winding up in Mississippi. There, he falls for a sheriff’s daughter and tries to reform his act, even as he knows his lover (and then wife) is as much drawn to him for his rakishness as any other quality.
His new life can’t last for long, of course, and when tragedy strikes Chase finds himself on a path back to his grandfather, back to the secrets of his past, and back into a life on the other side. What follows is a short, sharp shock to the system, and one of the best crime novels I’ve read in a very long time.
Few novels have the focus and driving energy of Tom Piccirilli’sThe Cold Spot wedded to an innate intelligence and rough lyricism. Many, many lines from this novel kept coming back to me after finishing it. For example:
He’d wake up from a deep sleep with a noise so loud in his head that he had to press his hands over his ears. It was the sound Walcroft made after Jonah had shot him in the head. It went on and on, growing louder as it came down through the years to find him.
In Chase’s world, the past has weight, and so do the relationships in his life. Time and time again, some of the best choreographed action scenes in recent fiction are transposed with the characterization of Chase, a bright guy in a not-bright business. Violence also has weight in The Cold Spot. When Chase gets in a fight with his girlfriend’s sheriff father, you feel the blows, you experience the blood, and there’s no comic-book quality to it. You’re always in the moment. You’re always in Chase’s head–and close in, too. In every scene. This is tough to pull off, but because Piccirilli is able to do it, the streamlined, focused plot acquires added depth and texture.
From start to finish, there’s not a wasted scene, not a wasted paragraph, not a wasted word, in The Cold Spot. It ranks right up there with my favorite work by Ken Bruen (who blurbs the novel) and other masters of hardboiled fiction. In fact, in some ways it surpasses those other books because of another great aspect of the novel: Piccirilli’s ability to give you a great, gritty picture of New York, Long Island, and the immediate environs as well as a pitch-perfect snapshot of the Deep South–and then on top of that, with quick but careful brushstrokes, he adds on details about the thief’s trade that, whether they’re true or not, are as authentic on the page as I’ve read.
If all of that doesn’t convince you, here’s the opening of the novel. And check out my Omnivoracious interview/feature with Piccirilli.
Chase was laughing with the others during the poker game when his grandfather threw down his cards, took a deep pull on his beer, and with no expression at all shot Walcroft in the head.
Only Chase was started. He leaped back in his seat knocking over some loose cash and an ashtray, the world tilting left while he went right. Jonah had palmed a .22 in his left hand and had it pressed to Walcroft’s temple, a thin trail of smoke spiraling in the air and the smell of burning hair and skin wafting across the table into Chase’s face.
You’d think it would be disgusting, acrid, but it was actually sort of fragrant. There was almost no blood. One small pop had filled the hotel room, quieter than striking a nail with a hammer. It didn’t even frighten the pigeons off the sill.