A man learns that the game is up, in a thriller as sharp as a new laser print of Double Indemnity.
Author Rayner (Drake’s Fortune, 2002, etc.) makes it seem as if it’s never been done before—as if no femme fatale ever lured a man into her web, no mobsters ever rolled dice in Las Vegas, and no atomic bombs ever exploded in the Nevada Desert in the ’50s. With a keen eye for character and place (“The sand could be made to gush with money . . .”), Rayner builds a swiftly cadenced plot around Maurice Valentine, born Maurizio Viglioni. Valentine, a successful architect who’s a husband, a father, and a likely candidate for US Senate, thinks he has shed Viglioni, a shell-shocked veteran of WWII. At a cocktail party, Valentine meets Mallory Walker, who aspires to join Valentine at the drawing board—and in bed. In a steamy scene, she succeeds in the latter, and she appears headed to doing the former until she turns up dead in a car accident—but not before she’s turned on Valentine, trying unsuccessfully to shoot him. All the while, Rayner has been cutting back to the tale of Beth Dyer, who shows in an unsettling gem of a first scene how disturbing an actor’s dark ambition can be. As a besotted Valentine, meanwhile, tries to find Mallory’s killers and to unravel her motives for trying to kill him, an architect friend hands Valentine a news clipping: Mallory is alive and about to be married. The bride-to-be turns out to be Beth Dyer, who spins a tale that sets Valentine after Vegas mobster Paul Mantinelli. Like the exploding atomic bomb some hotel guests watch from Vegas, the tie-up flashes in Valentine’s face, then leaves him in darkness.
Expertly judged work, executed with an apparent relish for all things noir.