THE LAST DEAL by Laurence Gonzales


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The life (up to around age 30) of hip Danny Paine--avid pilot, teen revenge-killer, drug-smuggler, shady investor--in an unsteady novel that delivers chunks of riveting melodrama but dilutes the suspense with detours into other assorted genres. Danny, born to an unwed Mexican girl (pregnant by a married US tourist), is raised by his Uncle Beto--but Beto is murdered by a villain named Mendoza circa 1955 (eyewitness Danny, age eight, shoots Mendoza's hand off). So Danny's real father, a now-widowed, rich Chicago lawyer, reclaims the boy--who develops his aviation passion with pal Chip but, at 17, sneaks off to Mexico, locates his Uncle Amesquita (a federal narcotics-cop), tracks the hated Mendoza (now a heroin king) back to Chicago, and shoots him: all in a mesmerizing first 40 pages. After that, however, the grip is only intermittent. For money and thrills, Danny and Chip fly 1960s potsmuggling missions, from Mexico and then Colombia--with Danny always vowing that each run is ""the last deal,"" especially after girlfriend Maggie, a journalism student, learns what he's up to. But the late Mendoza's confederate, corrupt US narc Fassnacht (Uncle Amesquita's arch-enemy), is after Danny: when Fassnacht's men harass Maggie, she walks out. So Danny and Chip move on, putting their $4-million earnings in tax-avoiding ventures, finding new women. And, in the 1970s, Danny reunions with now-married Maggie, learns that he has a son (from a one-night ""revenge-fuck"" with Maggie's friend Elaine), and determines to set up one last drugrun deal in order to trap Fassnacht . . . who has by now killed Uncle A. and put Danny's father in prison. Much of this is taut and sharp, displaying comparable talents to those shown more consistently in Gonzales' Jambeaux (1979): the aviation detailing, the violence (including one epically grisly smuggling technique), the downbeat dialogue. But, along with the erratic pacing here, there's an iffiness of tone, the raw action mixing poorly with other, often trite textures: journalistic digressions on the drug-biz; cute/soppy romance; male-bonding camaraderie; pretentious cross-references to Sixties/Seventies political history; and that illegitimateson subplot--which reads as if Howard Fast wandered in to do a guest-chapter. The result? Scattered effects--especially since few readers will care much about hero Danny. But there's probably enough plain, strong action to hold the attention of aviation-suspense fans and drug-culture aficionados.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1981
Publisher: Atheneum