More than just a very good crime thriller, this dark but illuminating novel shows us the psychopathology of the criminal mind.
Good-looking in a Marlboro Man way, street-savvy and sharp-eyed, Charlie Rankin is still a mess. Jones (The Elements of Hitting, 1994, etc.) turns him loose on a savage mission, and we watch him implode. Fresh from a four-year prison term for “taking forty-two bucks and some candy bars from a hospital vending machine I jacked open,” Rankin is a hired gun, charged by his jailhouse mentor/lover William Pettigrew to murder a man for vengeance. The money’s nice; the target, Pettigrew insists, deserves death. And so, methodically, Rankin sets out, constantly replaying mental movies of Charlie Bronson’s The Mechanic, Hollywood’s version of himself. In reality, he’s hardly the cold monster he aims to be, but the shell of a lost boy abused by his father. On the way to the hit, he shacks up with a wasted cutie in cowboy boots. She, too, contends with a double identity: Is she Florence, lonely and desperate for love? Or LuAnn, the stage name she’s picked as a minor porn star? Pettigrew himself, Rankin’s puppetmaster, is both a hardcore criminal but also a kind of sage, whom Rankin refers to as “The Buddha.” When Rankin explodes into murder, the scene is appallingly graphic, but perhaps even more wrenching are its metaphysical implications. For, even as he butchers, Rankin can’t help wondering: am I so crazily confused that I’ve killed the wrong man? Brilliantly chilling in its step-by-step examination of the mechanics of committing a criminal act—how the gun fits the hand, how to stash the cash—the novel’s true terror is an interior one: an extreme-close-up vision of the drive toward homicide.
A nightmare thriller with the power to haunt.