A few years ago, I was wandering through the mystery shelves at the library, browsing my way backwards through the alphabet to my goal, M Ham.* I pulled something off a jammed shelf in the Ks, and a few others came with it. Among them was a sunset-colored book, The Long Fall. I’m something of a sucker for con men and loan sharks, so I read the first few pages.
I forgot all about picking up Red Harvest and took Jimmy Coates to lunch instead. And dinner. And then I asked him to move in as soon as I could find a bookstore. All on my dime, of course.
Searching for more from the author, Lynn Kostoff, I found an older novel, Choice of Nightmares,** and a somewhat older thesis, Foregone Conclusions. I requested the former through interlibrary loan—though I’m still curious about the latter—and devoured it the moment it came in.
Then I asked the library mystery selector to flag Mr. Kostoff’s name for me—it’s a perk of the job—and checked back occasionally. Eventually, I let it go . . .and my memory being what it is, I forgot.
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, when I checked one of my favorite blogs, Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room. It must have been a Thursday, because there was a new post up by Alison Janssen, an editor at Tyrus Books.
Turns out, Tyrus just released a new novel by Mr. Kostoff, Late Rain. Ms. Janssen, being the lovely, generous person she is, offered copies to the first three commenters. I remembered Mr. Kostoff’s name—though not the titles I’d read, embarrassingly enough—and nearly hyperextended a forfinger typing my e-mail address as quickly as possible. And I managed to snag one.***
I just finished Late Rain, and I have one thing to say to Mr. Kostoff:
Do it again, please.
Late Rain isn’t a whodunit; the reader knows who, and why, and how—and every little stinking thing that goes wrong along the way. This is unrelieved, brilliant noir.
Ben Decovic is a former homicide detective whose life was about following threads—until his wife was gunned down in a random murder spree by a man who killed himself, leaving behind no discernable motive and no possible closure for Ben. Untethered, he drifts to South Carolina and takes a patrol job with the Magnolia Beach police department, where he’s viewed as a threat and a screwup.
Meanwhile, Corrine Tedros—if anyone’s hard-boiled in this novel, she is—decides that she’s done waiting for her husband’s rich uncle to die. But the murder doesn’t go according to plan, and there’s even a witness—Jack Carson, a man in the late stages of Alzheimer’s who may or may not know more than he can tell.
His interest awakened, both in detective work and in Anne, Jack’s careworn daughter, Ben is determined to uncover the motive for the murder, while Corrine scrambles to save her dreams and schemes.
This sounds simple, but this isn’t a straightforward novel by any means—it’s noir. The plot is rich and thick and the subplots connect in ways I wasn’t expecting. There are at least two subplots that are so beautifully understated, my jaw dropped when I finally caught on. If I did. . . I think I did. . .
The main characters are themselves all the way through. Jack Carson in particular is a heartbreaking mix of regression and loss, a strong, self-reliant man reduced to a helpless burden of the family he can’t quite remember. The killer, too, is a singular individual in the literal sense of the word—he isn’t entirely engaged in his own story, though he probably provides the most reliable point of view.
Even the minor characters— an insult to the depth of most of them— are memorable. The lawyer who facilitates Corrine’s perfect murder oozes repulsive competence and is so fundamentally amoral that he might have been a parody in a different novel.^ And Paige, Anne’s precocious twelve-year old daughter, may be the most subtly frightening character in the novel.
Everyone in Late Rain is missing something: memories, respect, shame, closure, love, affect, perspective, self-esteem, guilt, money, or morals. And maybe most of all, peace.
This is the good stuff.
Do yourself a favor and acquaint yourself with Lynn Kostoff’s novels. You’ll thank me later.
*I adore the Continental Op. And Nick and Nora. I don’t love Sam Spade, but I visit him every chance I get.
**Which is now back in print as of this past March, so you’ll be spared my wait.
***While I was waiting for it to arrive, I found The Long Fall on my shelf and re-read it—it’s just as good as I remembered.
^ I’m looking at you, Mr. Hiasen.