An ex-prisoner tries to hunt down his friend’s killer in this noir thriller by Larcinese (Women, 2018).
The novel opens in the yard of Graterford prison, about an hour outside Philadelphia. Rubber bullets rip through the air; prisoner Mikey Osborne has just been stabbed in the jugular. Thirty yards away, his friend and fellow prisoner Bill Conlon lies helpless with a string of rosaries “fashioned from raisins and thread unwound from a sock” clutched in his hand. (He’s known as “the priest” by the other prisoners whom he’s counseled over the years.) Eight months later, Bill is released and he’s determined to find out who killed Mikey. He suspects that the killer was the recently released Deadly Eddie Matthews. Although he “would rather eat a plateful of maggots than pal around with Eddie,” he needs to get close to him to get a confession. It proves to be a dangerous game. The narrative centers on a dive bar, Dirty Frank’s, which plays host to a rogues’ gallery of Philadelphia’s underworld. Bill starts to develop a rapport with bartender Louise Bearden, a no-nonsense woman who’s a former roller derby skater, but it turns out that Deadly Eddie has deadly plans for her. This is an immersive thriller, and Larcinese creates a believable world of intricately detailed characters—although readers may find them difficult to root for. Bill, for example, is a former teacher who served time for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old high school student. Deadly Eddie is utterly abhorrent, but Larcinese take pains to show that the villain had a violent upbringing that led him to kill his father: “his old man…beat his beloved mother half senseless, then did things like grab her by the hair and hold her sobbing, brutalized face up for Eddie to see and say, ‘See?’ ” (A detective character, Sam Lanza, could have played a more prominent role, however.) The author is also unafraid to deliver sudden, blood-splattered imagery. Overall, this is a satisfyingly dark thriller, and there’s an appealing neatness to the author’s careful psychological studies.
An often gripping, blood-drenched page-turner.