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by David Anthony

Pub Date: June 7th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61620-022-0
Publisher: Algonquin

In Anthony's debut, a high-living 1970s aircraft salesman tries to clear his mounting debts by piloting heroin into California from Mexico.

The oil embargo of 1973-74 is especially devastating for Martin Anderson, bon vivant. Emboldened by profits, he's moved his family into an expensive Bay Area suburb and acquired expensive hobbies and baubles: cabin cruiser, racehorse, cabin in Tahoe, big Cadillac. Now he's not only overstretched financially, but his family life is souring, too. His junior-high daughter has been experimenting with pot; his 9-year-old son is sending baffling, aggressive typed notes to classmates: "JESUS HATES YOU." Martin is mired in ever deeper debt, and when his horse trainer, Val, offers a chance to have $40,000 forgiven and earn $5,000 a trip by making night flights as an amateur smuggler, he jumps. As anyone who's ever seen a ’70s detective show or read the scores of similar novels knows, this is a Doomed Idea, drug-dealing thugs being what they are. Things quickly devolve. A narcotics detective starts snooping around, enlisting Martin's aid in a supposedly unrelated case; then Martin accidentally estranges himself from his wife, and she takes off with the kids (the half that's NOT an accident has less to do with Martin's needs than with the plot's; it won't do to have Martin's innocent family around when the mayhem begins). Soon thereafter, Val and his wife are brutally murdered, Martin finds himself with a big cache of drug money and we're set up for a bloody denouement. Where this book exceeds the expectations of its formula is in the finesse and wit with which Anthony handles both the setting and the swaggering, self-absorbed but often likable protagonist—he captures the ethos of the '70s and the soul of sad-sack Martin admirably, and the links to our own time are compelling. But the plot seems contrived and familiar.

Not nothing, but it could have really been something.