Five years ago, Terry abruptly abandoned his family and girlfriend after his older brother, "Collie," murdered complete strangers in a wild night of mayhem. Now Collie will be executed in a couple of weeks. A phone call from a strange woman brings Terry home from way out west, where he has been leading a straight life, back to Long Island. Collie wants to see him.
Terry returns to find his family in an emotional stasis. They are beset by reporters and visited frequently by a police detective, Gillmore, who may be more of a family friend than a cop at this point. Their natural defense is not to let any strong emotion show. How do Terry's father, uncles, and sister feel? Who knows? What does Terry feel? Who knows? They go about their everyday business, as an underlying tension hums in the background.
No family member has been to see Collie since his incarceration. Terry goes to see Collie more for himself than to see what Collie wants. If sinking into "the underneath" could happen to someone Terry thought he knew so well, could something similar happen to him? Why did Collie do what he did?
What Collie wants from Terry is the impossible. Collie claims that he did not murder one of the victims attributed to him. He wants Terry to find out who did.
The Last Kind Words is about family relationships in a family whose members are born keeping secrets. Is there a gene that suddenly turns on and tilts a life awry? Is Collie the sacrifice for a karmic burden that finally becomes payable after generations of a family devote themselves to the grift, the con, thieving?
It's a moment of "ahh" when Tom Piccirilli reveals the derivation of the title of his book. Sometimes it's a long time between ahhs, between the revelations of the mysteries that drive this book.
Sometimes repetition is a soothing tide, providing a rhythmic backdrop to the rest of the story. Sometimes it's a klaxon sounding in a library. Most of the time, Piccirilli's reference to "the underneath" is the former, but towards the end, despite the dramatic ending, the underneath is less the whirlpool it should be than a mild undertow. But if that's the bad news, the good news is this is a creative, engaging, entertaining book, and I recommend it. Four stars instead of five.