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July 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more One Last Job
Advice to all good-hearted crooks who want to get out of the game: don’t do “one last job.” It won’t work. Never Does. Never. It doesn’t matter what the reasons may be—help the kids you abandoned, get back together with the ex-wife you still love, put together a stash and hightail it for Costa Rica—by the end of job, you’ll either be dead or worse off than when you started. The chimerical one last job offers only a one-way ticket on the Oblivion Express. Don’t believe it? Follow the thin red line of these noir heroes from illusion to reality.
Boot Tracks. By Matthew F. Jones. 2006. 208p. Europa, paper, $14.95 (9781933372112).
The ex-con out of prison to do one last job is a common variation on the theme (see The Getaway, below), and Jones does it proud in this powerful tale of Charlie Rankin, sprung from the joint and honor-bound to kill a man on orders from “Buddha,” the lifer who kept him safe in prison in exchange for sexual favors and spiritual guidance. The hit goes bad from the get-go, as Rankin wanders about on a golf course in the dark, trying to find the intended victim’s house. The sense of horrible inevitability is almost overpowering here, but Jones has us following Rankin’s boot tracks anyway. If only Jean-Pierre Melville (Bob le Flambeur) were still alive to make the movie version.
The Carrion Birds. By Urban Waite. Apr. 2013. 288p. Morrow, hardcover, $25.99 (9780062216885).
Ray, a gun for hire working for a seriously bent drug dealer, wants only to go home to Coronado, New Mexico, and reunite with his 12-year-old son. Not happening, Ray. Along the way, though, his determination to get somewhere everyone knows he can never go opens a Pandora’s box of chain reactions that wreaks havoc on a small southwestern town, havoc that is described in such graphically poetic prose that it occasionally makes the hair on even a cynical noir fan’s head stand on end. The Oblivion Express only runs in one direction, and there are no side trips. As Ray puts it in the finale, which will remind readers of the equally inevitable end to Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers (1974), “All of it had led to this—this moment, no one but him and the pain and the pulse of the wound beneath his hand, drawing him forward.”
The Fever Kill. By Tom Piccirilli. Dec. 2007. 184p. New Pulp, paper, $16.95 (9780976921745).
Crease, the beleaguered protagonist in this cut-to-the-bone noir, has escaped the clutches of the drug lord he’s been investigating as a deeply undercover cop, but does he run far, far away? Of course not. He embarks on one last job, settling scores in his hometown. “He really didn’t care much anymore . . . [he understood] that what he was doing made no sense to anyone, not even himself, and yet it was the only thing he could be doing.” Piccirilli nails the mood of dusty, small-town noir—that mix of despair, desperation, and buried secrets that suggests Orson Welles’ classic film Touch of Evil—and he evokes the nothing-left-to-lose mind-set that drives so many noir heroes to their undeserved fates.
The Getaway. By Jim Thompson. 1958. 192p. Vintage, paper, $13.95 (9780679732501).
Forget the 1970s movie version starring Steve McQueen. Only in Hollywood does an ex-con bank robber’s one last job lead to a happy ending. It’s a very different kind of thing in Thompson’s novel, in which Doc McCoy and his girlfriend, Carol (a former librarian!), do their last job and embark on a blood-spattered getaway to Mexico. They get there, too, but what they find is a long, long way from the sanctuary they were seeking. No one bled words onto the page like Thompson, whose entire oeuvre makes the work of most of today’s noir imitators feel like comfort food.
Hit and Run. By Lawrence Block. July 2008. 304p. HarperCollins, paper, $7.99 (9780060840914).
Keller, Block’s stamp-collecting hit man, is in Des Moines to do one last job before retiring. But while Keller is buying some stamps, the governor of Ohio, campaigning for the presidential nomination, is assassinated. Within hours, Keller’s picture is on every TV screen in the country. He’s been set up to take the fall, and the sting cuts deeply into all aspects of his life, one aspect of which will prove particularly shocking to series fans. Spoiler alert: Keller comes out of his one last job a little better than most, but he’ll never be the same again.
Mr. Hooligan. By Ian Vasquez. Dec. 2010. 352p. Minotaur, e-book, $9.99 (9781429925402).
Riley James, a bar owner in Belize trying to go straight, is “an ordinary guy with a little street in him . . . who got himself into a scrape.” Getting himself out of the ramifications of that scrape leads to his speaking the words you never want to hear from someone you like: “If I can do one last job.” One of the most excruciating parts of reading pure noir—and particularly the one-last-job strain, which may be the purest noir of all—is that almost from page 1 you find yourself screaming, “Think, for God’s sake, think.” In those few moments between screams, you’re likely to notice that the Belize backdrop provides one of the best humidity-soaked noir landscapes since Vicki Hendricks turned up the steam at a Laundromat (Miami Purity).
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