A criminal who’s spent five years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit finds that life on the outside is just as violent and unfair.
Timothy (Sugar) Caine is a pro’s pro, a methodical thief built like a stone wall who’s forsworn violence on the job. Even though a rape victim has picked his mug shot from a photo array, there’s no way he could be her assailant. Sugar knows it; the cops know it; even the victim would probably know it if she took a good close look at his mismatched eyes. But when the NYPD detectives who found him packing heat ask for his alibi, he clams up for the best reason in the world—he doesn't want to confirm their assumption that he was part of a crew that was robbing a jewelry store instead. Unwilling to give up his confederates—Solomon Vizner, who set up the job; Big Matt, the engineer; and Abner Jessop, the newbie Solly’s old friend Albie had vouched for—Sugar elects to take the weight for the rape instead. Five uncomplaining years later, he emerges from prison expecting a warm welcome and a big payoff from Solly. He gets the first, but in lieu of the second, Solly sics him on Jessop, who’s taken off for the Sunshine State, where Solly also hopes to recover a little blue book Albie left behind when he departed to join the heavenly choir. Under the Florida sun, Sugar tracks Jessop with the help of Albie’s girlfriend Rena Rosenberg, but not before he and Rena have formed a uniquely salt-and-pepper relationship that begins in mutual wariness and moves through mutual back-scratching to sexual congress to something altogether richer and more unexpected. The ensuing chain of bait-and-switch seems to have been plotted by someone with a truly fiendish interest in frustrating his hero.
Even in the absence of his signature tough-guy hero Burke, Vachss (Haiku, 2009, etc.) is just as macho, jaundiced and relentlessly didactic about what a hard, hard world it is.