Smith’s eighth novel is an offbeat crime story that portrays a gangster with more soul than smarts.
Cot Sims has returned to his hometown of Key West, and that’s bad news. What alarms the locals is not that Cot is a gangster (he’s one of their own, so they’ll cut him some slack), but that he’s a screw-up, trailing woe. For 18 years, Cot has been a utility guy for Albertson, head of a major drug smuggling operation in Miami. He’s come home to help his mother, Ella; the town won’t let her move back into her house (hurricane damage). Palms need to be greased. Cot’s dilemma is that he’s just blown his last dollar at the track. Then he gets word Albertson wants him to check on a stash of emeralds. Why not buy off the inspector with a gem? It’s twisted logic, inviting Albertson’s retribution, but vintage Cot. Before that can happen, Cot’s oldest friend, CJ, a cross-dressing entertainer guarding the gems, is found dead on the beach, the stones gone. Meanwhile, Cot has resumed his on-again, off-again affair with his moll Marcella, a lawyer defiantly unfaithful to her prosecutor husband, while still finding time to read Virgil, his favorite author, and ruminate on the whole sad mess of life and death; he’s more like one of Graham Greene’s spiritual wrecks than the killer he is. Is he credible? The Virgil is a bit much, but readers will be willing to believe in Cot’s self-destructive spree until the plot becomes altogether too wild and woolly. The introspection outweighs the action, though there’s plenty of that too, including a kidnapping, a scary flight to the Gulf Coast, a showdown with Albertson (the climax in a more restrained novel), a Key West shootout between cops and mobsters, and a corpse-strewn finale in Havana.
Cot racks up many kills: Give him his due, the guy can shoot.