Book Review : Tom Piccirilli - The Last Whisper in the Dark (2013)


(also reviewed)
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JFK made that throat-clearing sound again and I turned and said, "What?"

He raised his paw and put it over my heart.

I took it as a sign of forgiveness. I would take anything as a sign of forgiveness.

Whenever my martial arts teacher would teach us a cool, new move he'd just learned, he would keep repeating: "This is my new favorite move, guys. My new favorite move." I feel like that sometimes when I tell people about Tom Piccirilli. He is a member of the "best-author-you-never-heard-of" society. He is a fashionable, empowering secret, like the Fight Club. His novel THE LAST KIND WORDS sort of blew me away with its power, craftsmanship and originality last year and won my best read of the year award for 2012. I have went out of my way to get my hands on an Advanced Reader Copy for the sequel THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK and succeeded. Those who read the first novel will be happy to hear that Tom Piccirilli raised the bar on himself again. Rule of thumb wants that sequels are inferior, vanity-driven projects. I can assure you that THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK is the exception to that rule.

I would suggest reading THE LAST KIND WORDS before this one, because the events pick up very little time after the first book and protagonist extraordinaire Terrier Rand is still wrapped up in them. It's a wonderful novel in its own right, so it's not like it's a huge effort here. He is trying to piece the remains of his family back together after the events of the first novel, while pursuing his own infatuation with his ex-girlfriend, from whom he ran away after she miscarried. It's a troublesome time for the Rands, the infamous family of thiefs, as Terrier's mother Ellie is summoned to her father's death bed. She cut the ties with her family when she married Terrier's dad Pinscher and none of her children even know her maiden name. Turns out her father's gesture is interested. That Terrier's ex Kimmy's husband is caught up in a dangerous deal and that his sister Dale has her own set of issues to deal with. Another lively day in the Rand household!

The fantastic thing about the Terrier Rand novels is that it's about criminals, but it's not necessary a crime novel. The plot doesn't revolve around a particular score and doesn't keep track of the usual variables. THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK is about Terrier Rand's life, first and foremost and his daily activities include being solicited for his expertise, going through his own projects and trying to maintain the simulacrum of a normal life, since he spent five years on the run from everybody and everything. Piccirilli explores the marginal lifestyle of a career criminal, rather than his activities directly and the common variables: the score, the getaway, the money, the guns, the ice, the dope, all the usual suspects are left in the back burner in favor of  pure, unadulterated character development. There are several criminal plotlines (three, to be exact), but they all take the backseat to Terrier's emotional journey, which is what elevates this novel above the rest.

"He wants to see you, Terry," she told me. "You don't have to go upstairs."

Of course I did. I wanted to see this guy who'd thrown my mother out of the house, once been hard as steel, the starmaker with such dim notions of people. I wanted to hear the absurd favor that had Will on edge. I wanted to give a dying man a slap. He had made my ma cry.

Piccirilli integrates variables that are often important to heist novels and turns them into details here and seen through the eyes of Terrier Rand, those details are the most charming things. For example, there is a burglary scene, where Terrier walks through a closed business, at night. The way he feels home in a home he's currently burglarizing is fascinating. He sits and watches a movie on a laptop, while being inside illegally. In another scene, he's knocking on a door of a place he's previously broken into and comments about how weird it is for him to respect the proper social etiquette in this scenario. Details like that make Terrier Rand who he is and where THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK knocks it out of the park, it's that it has less characters and offers better focus on Terrier, Pinscher, Dale, Ellie and the remaining cast that made it into this book. They feel more real, closer to us.

None of the criminal plot lines takes precedence over the other, but they work wonderfully well complementing one another and layering the novel. Once again, it's an aspect of THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK where details stick out and win you over. For example, there is a secondary character who appears about two-thirds into the novel, who is so delightfully twisted and wrong. Who would be such a cliché in a more deliberate crime novel, but here stands out in the low-key nature of Terrier Rand's worlds. I don't want to spoil anything about him, but a lot of people will remember him first when they'll think back on this novel. Just when I thought Terrier was getting a little too melancholic and melodramatic, he comes right in, like a dog on a bowling alley and makes things really fun.

I'm going to make a huge statement, here. I believe I have found my favorite recurring novel character since Patrick Kenzie. Terrier Rand deals with his emotions in a less graceful way than Patrick does, but his more sensitive outlook on life has an appeal of its own, as he is very aware of leading an abnormal existence and the moral struggle of balancing the good and the bad aspects is what makes the books worth reading. THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK is not fast paced, per se, but it's intense, layered, sad, exhilarating, vivid, unique, do you want more qualifiers or are you convinced? Tom Piccirilli is for most readers aware of his existence, a perennial I-know-I-should-read-him-but-I-can-never-make-it-happen case. Make it happen. Find a way. I did and I have read seven of his books within one year and have stacked up several others. Don't miss out on the Rand family, you'd be missing out on the greatest thing crime fiction had to offer in the last three years.



I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.

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