OLD AND COLD by Jim Nisbet


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An aging, homeless Man with No Name takes an assignment for a contract hit in order to keep himself in icy martinis.

Noir-master Nisbet (The Damned Don’t Die, 1986, etc.) slaps readers right in the face with this stream-of-consciousness rant by an alcoholic narrator who makes Clint Eastwood sound downright squeaky by comparison. Nisbet’s protagonist lives under a bridge abutment in San Francisco, where he does the math calculating how time is running out for him, pining for the daughter he thinks he has somewhere and betting whether the “smart money” will keep him in the two-to-ten martinis a day he needs to get by. “The one thing about binge drinking is that the one thing you know for sure is that sooner or later, while you know you’re going to wake up under that bridge abutment again, the question is whether you’re going to wake up there in one piece,” mulls our nominative hero. This is experimental stuff in a somewhat traditional genre, with chapters composed of unbroken paragraphs filled with the bleak but verbose monologue by a dying man. There are lots of ruminations here, marinated in Andrei Rublev vodka (an in-joke by Nisbet, naming his fictional cocktail after a medieval painter of Orthodox icons), ranging from notes on the economy to mathematical expressions of alcoholism to clinical observations on the little humiliations of one’s lifestyle, like spitting out teeth from time to time. Through the fog and psychic whiplash of this guy’s brain, we somehow learn that he’s taken one more hit, a $5,000 gig that will keep him on another bad bender for a while. There’s a couple of cops nosing around and a bartender who riles things up by raising the price of martinis to $6.50, which changes the math for our geezer killer. But plot is secondary to voice in this fractured fairy tale, where the lessons aren’t cautionary—they’re fatal.

A grim, fiercely written entry whose best feature is one baleful voice, one step from the grave.

Pub Date: July 17th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59020-915-8
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2012


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