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Review: Tom Piccirilli's modern noir features murder mystery involving family of thieves
"The Last Kind Words" (Bantam), by Tom Piccirilli
At the start of "The Last Kind Words," Terrier Rand inventories the physical scars he sustained growing up in a family of grifters and thieves; one incurred while on a job at age 12, one when his brother Collie stabbed him with a toy bayonet, and one he tries hard never to think about.
Of course, the implication is that Terry bears far more scars than those, and has inflicted his fair share of them as well. That these scars are hidden by a large dog tattoo ' he shares his name, as all the Rands do, with a dog breed ' indicates a complicated and uneasy relationship with who he is and where he comes from.
Terry fled from his home five years ago after Collie went on a killing rampage. Collie, now two weeks away from execution, has summoned Terry back to investigate on his behalf, but not because he's innocent ' he readily admits killing seven people. But the eighth? Someone else killed her.
The nice thing about this twist is that Collie wants Terry to look into this matter merely to satisfy his own curiosity, not out of sudden remorse or a sense of justice prompted by his imminent death. Nor does he ever offer any satisfying reason for why he killed anyone at all.
Terry reluctantly begins to poke around, while revisiting old haunts, contacts, marks and enemies, and treading carefully around his family members ' who aren't sure what to make of his return and respond to him with varying degrees of resentment and emotional distance. The Rands come across as a charming family of anti-heroes, but Piccirilli is careful not to over-romanticize them ' there's a darkness at work, the sense that any one of them, Terry included, could follow Collie into what he calls "the underneath."
I cannot say that the resolution satisfied me, but it does work within the context of the bleak portrait of two-bit grifter life Piccirilli establishes, and the central mystery takes a back seat to the Rands anyway, who are set to appear in Piccirilli's next novel.