In Woods’ (Phone Call From Hell And Other Tales of the Damned, 2014, etc.) noirish tale, a just-paroled convict goes after two women whose double cross led to his imprisonment.
When the recession forces Atlanta-based war veteran Bill Derringer into a 14-week furlough from his job as a waste-management truck driver, he and his wife, Edie, find themselves short on both cash and entertainment. She suggests a trip to Orlando, Florida, to see a murder trial, so they pack up their clothes and their two kids and head south. They crash at Edie’s cousin Ida’s place, but it isn’t long before the unemployed “Aunt Ida,” as she’s called, proposes robbing a local guns-and-ammo show. Derringer is surprised to learn that Edie and Aunt Ida have been lovers since high school, and after the robbery, he finds out that Aunt Ida’s plan to escape to Mexico City with the loot doesn’t include him. He winds up in prison for the heist, while the two women vanish. Five-and-a-half years later, he reports to a Miami halfway house, initially invested in finding his estranged children. But he soon makes tracks for Mexico City. Along the way, he becomes a courier for a mysterious suitcase that once belonged to Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs, and even agrees to infiltrate a drug cartel for an unspecified U.S. agency—but his true goal is revenge. Woods’ story has several pulp-fiction trademarks, including a slew of seedy characters and plenty of sex and violence. But the book isn’t as hard-boiled as readers may anticipate. For every brazen simile (“The afternoon sun beat down like a dominatrix in a sweat”), narrator Derringer drops a line that’s endearing or sentimental, as when he recalls when he and Edie “smooched and groped each other like movie matinee lovers.” Although the perpetually gruff protagonist is a hard man to like, he enjoyably teams up with fellow halfway house resident Jane Ryder, who’s equally cynical but also whip-smart and reliable. A gleefully convoluted final act includes Nazis, unexpected deaths, and an over-the-top villainous plot.
A sharp, contemporary crime novel with classic genre elements.