Book Review : Tom Piccirilli - The Last Deep Breath (2011)
Three years ago (or almost), American novelist Tom Piccirilli tragically passed away. I was a devoted fan of his work and the news just flattened me. Suddenly, I wasn't able to read his work anymore. It filled me with a fucked up sense of sadness and dread, knowing I would eventually run out of new material of his. I needed to grieve. It took me sometime, but I finally turned that corner and started reading Tom Piccirilli again. I picked up his novella The Last Deep Breath and instantly remembered one important thing: holy SMOKES that guy was good.
The Last Deep Breath is the story of Grey, a drifter and lady-killer with a special gift for attracting broken women who want him to murder their husband. That dynamic changes the day Grey's sister Ellie shows up on his doorstep with a knife jammed in her side. Grey takes care of her and nurses her back to health, but starts investigating about her troublesome life on the sideline. Grey is going to discover a world filled with low-rent swindlers, scam artists, predatory movie agents and other, more terrifying characters who swallowed his sister's soul.
So, here's what makes Tom Piccirilli great: hardboiled fiction overflowers with drifters getting in trouble with murderous femmes fatales. He was very aware of that and made his protagonist Grey aware of that, too. So, Grey is self-awarely looking for a way out of his cliché vicious cycle. He gets that opportunity for an earnest redemption when his estranged sister suddenly walks back into his life, reviving painful memories of foster homes. The Last Deep Breath openly challenges and deconstruct one of the oldest hardboiled clichés without compromising on any of the darkness or violence. That takes vision and skill to pull off.
She turned over in bed, ran her finger through the wet thatch of his chest hair, and said, "I want you to kill my husband."
Grey wasn't surprised. It seemed like every third woman he ran into wanted her husband dead.
No divorce. No let's get him into AA or rehab. No he's the father of my children, sweet baby Jesus he deserves a second change. No smack him in teeth and leave him bleeding in the gutter.
No mercy at all. These ladies played a serious game.
Read the extract I've quoted right above. Read it twice. I don't know any other authors who can pull off such a seamless blend of first and third person narration. Tom Piccirilli excels at both (i.e. Clown in the Moonlight), but it really rises above when doing that "fake first person narration" like an anonymous observer with his own quirks and biases was telling the story. It is what makes reading Piccirilli such a unique and powerful experience each time, whatever the novel/novella might be about. Few have mastered both form and storytelling the way he did.
The Last Deep Breath made me consider the ol' talent versus popularity conundrum again. There are celebrated authors in our culture who are considerably less talented than Tom Piccirilli at telling at story, yet earned widespread recognition for telling more predictable and comforting stories. Now that he isn't with us anymore, it's up to you and me to assure his legacy. Let's go wild, beautiful people. Let's cover Goodreads and Amazon with reviews of Tom Piccirilli's books. I promised to make my part in 2018 and I highly suggest you to start with The Last Deep Breath. It's fantastic in a dark and brooding way only Piccirilli could've come up with.