Friday, February 13, 2009

Review: Tom Piccirilli's "The Coldest Mile"

One of the drawbacks of being a reviewer is that you have to make a lot of snap decisions just to keep up with the tide of material that washes over you. I get literally hundreds of ARCs and finished copies every year, and it's a little frightening to realize how arbitrary my methods for selecting the 30-35 titles for review really are.

For one thing, I very rarely review mass-market paperback originals, and usually only if there's a local connection. (Currently, a lot of urban fantasies with covers depicting well-toned, bare-midriffed young women wielding edged weapons go directly into the rejects bin. Sorry.) And sometimes I later regret not holding onto these books for my own reading pleasure. Case in point: the novels of Tom Piccirilli.

I know I received copies of his horror novels "The Midnight Road" and "The Dead Letters." But I didn't hang onto them, and now I'm kicking myself. Because I read his Edgar-nominated crime novel, "The Cold Spot," last year, and I immediately wanted more. Luckily, the sequel, "The Coldest Mile," is now available.

The new book picks up pretty much where the earlier volume left off, with wheelman Chase at loose ends after the death of his wife and his act of vengeance against her killers. He takes a job as a chauffeur for a Mob family, trying to figure out how he can rip them off and then be on his way to hunt down Jonah, the grandfather who raised him and betrayed him.

Chase wants to find his grandfather in order to protect Jonah's two-year-old daughter, whom he doesn't want to be raised by a sociopath. Chase's quest takes him to Florida, where he falls in with various small-time hoods, all the while girding himself a confrontation he's not at all sure he will survive.

"The Coldest Mile" can probably be enjoyed on its own, but you need to have read "The Cold Spot" to get its full effect. And it's pretty damn powerful. Chase and Jonah are great characters, the plotting works smoothly and Piccirilli both pays tribute to the likes of Goodis, Thompson and Stark and gives them a fair run for their money.

It's likely that Piccirilli isn't done with these characters, so this has the feel of a middle book in a trilogy. Whatever happens, I won't make the mistake of overlooking any more of Piccirilli's books that come my way.

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