Vachss (Down Here, 2004, etc.) plows a field famously sowed by Dashiell Hammett and reaps his own kind of red harvest.
The time, 1959—and America, like Hammett’s America a quarter century earlier, is restive as the winds of political and social change gather. The place—a small, entirely corrupt Midwestern burg named Locke City, currently owned top to bottom by homegrown Royal Beaumont. Crippled by a childhood disease, Royal rules from a wheelchair-throne; few, though, have ever doubted that his power is absolute. Or not until now, when rival mobs—one Irish, one Italian—suddenly sense windows of opportunity. They lurk at Locke City’s perimeter and sniff around Royal’s honey-pots—prostitution, gambling, protection—in a way calculated to cause maximum anxiety. In response, Royal sends for outside help in the form of Walker Dett, a man with the sort of “stillness” to him that Hammett’s Continental Op would have recognized and appreciated. Dett is a killer, a hired gun with the war smarts of a Clausewitz. You have a problem such as Royal finds himself facing? You make a call. Dett arrives. You put the problem in his hands, then sit back and count the body bags. It’s more than just the number of them, of course. It’s the quality, a matter of filling them with exactly the right bodies. There’s plot and counterplot as hard guys maneuver for position and form unlikely alliances. Dett, however, is always in charge, a dodge ahead of his enemies. He schemes, lures and, when at last he pounces, few are left standing. But Dett has a softer side and it catches him unaware. One night, the Angel of Death meets an Earth Angel and, to his astonishment, he falls in love. Life altering for Dett; for the reader unexpectedly moving.
A bit of a slow coach in the middle, but it recovers well. Dark, violent, blood-drenched, page-turning.