Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The Last Deep Breath, by Tom Piccirilli
A couple weeks ago I posted what I considered the ten best noir novels of the last ten years or so. A couple of readers with remarkably good taste immediately pointed out to me that I’d somehow missed Tom Piccirilli—in particular a book called The Last Deep Breath. They kindly pointed out to me what a complete douchebag I was for not having read him, and insisted that, until I did, I had no business calling myself a Noir Fiction Fan Boy.
Okay, no one really did that. But their enthusiasm for Piccirilli was evident, let’s put it that way.
And being someone who hates not knowing what all the fuss is about, I immediately bought the Kindle-fied version of The Last Deep Breath and read it.
By read it, I mean I fucking devoured that sucker. You know that old cliché about not being able to put a book down, staying up ‘til the wee hours of the morning to finish it? I always have trouble believing people when they say that, but, well, that’s what happened. This is a monster of a good book.
The story: Grey, a drifter deeply troubled by an unsavory past, stumbles across his long-lost foster sister Ellie, slumped across his doorstep with a knife in her side. He manages to save her life, but before he can learn what happened to her, she disappears again—leading Grey to Los Angeles in search of her. His journey takes him up against sleazy Hollywood agents, porn stars, pimps and drug dealers, in a whirlwind of noir conventions turned on their ears.
The pace of The Last Deep Breath is lightning-fast, and stays centered furiously on Grey, an intriguingly damaged protagonist. But what I really love about this book is how Piccirilli pulls out all these ideas we have about noir fiction, shows us the undersides of them, and then deftly displays new ways they can be used.
A good example is the opening bit:
She turned over in bed, ran her fingers through the wet thatch of his chest hair, and said, “I want you to kill my husband.” Grey wasn’t surprised. It seemed like every third woman he ran into wanted her husband dead. No divorce. No let’s get him into AA or rehab. No he’s the father of my children, sweet baby Jesus he deserves a second chance. No smack him in the teeth and leave him bleeding in the gutter.
Right away, Piccirilli takes a concept as old as Cain (James M., that is) and lets us know that, no, he’s not gonna go that route because it’s too easy.
And he does that sort of thing all through the book—giving us a glimpse at the old way of doing it before tossing it aside and doing it the Piccirilli way.
The Last Deep Breath is an immensely satisfying noir. Be sure to take a few deep breaths before you read it, because you’ll be holding your breath the whole time.