Forget southern California—first-novelist Kostoff proves that southern Florida is the ideal location these dope-dealing days for the noir thriller. Here, Kostoff polishes up all the elements of the genre- -including the luckless antihero, the femme fatale with the dark past (which isn't getting any lighter in the present), and a bunch of near-psychotic malefactors with a taste for the double-cross and the infliction of fear and pain. The author even brings off the sort of wise-guy Chandleresque metaphors that can seem labored in less skilled hands. His protagonist, Robert Staples, an actor with a stalled career in B-pictures, is more passive than most. The action—until near the end, when it seems almost too late—happens to him and around him, beginning with the loss of a package that his talent agent asked him to deliver. His passivity is increased by the amount of cocaine he sniffs, and by dogging the heels of a sexually adroit, maddeningly desirable woman for whom love is a four-letter word more disgusting than most. Nevertheless, he wins sympathy for not kidding himself and simply wanting to stay alive. The locales, Miami and Key West, are powerfully drawn as fallen Edens, purgatories with palm trees where Cubans, retirees, tourists, drug agents, and deal dealers (hard to tell apart) rub shoulders. Treachery keeps the plot twisting and turning, and sometimes obscuring itself, like a snake swallowing its tale. But the reader will read on. A noir thriller that delivers with vivid writing, smart plotting, and a deeper-than-usual insight into its flawed central character.
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