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Friday, March 13, 2009

The Last Gig, by Norman Green (hardcover, $25.95)

Norman Green is the author of the superb Shooting Dr. Jack and The Angel of Montague Street. I want to cry when one of his books ends, both because the book is ending and because Green is the Itzhak Perlman of noir and knows how to play a reader's emotional strings.

Green's other books have been darker, his protagonists on the edge or fully on the other side of respectability. In The Last Gig, Green has a female protagonist, Alessandra Matillo, who is as tough, as rough, as street-smart as Green's male protagonists have been. Al is a budding private eye and, one would thus expect, mostly on the respectable side of the line, and one would be mostly right. At the moment she practices on repos and catching restaurant staff waving sticky fingers over the restaurant owner's dough -- the green, inedible kind.

At last a break comes along, a smuggling case that Al takes over. However, Al doesn't know who is shadier, the client or the smuggler. Al's boss has a complex, long-standing relationship with Daniel Caughlan, whose transport company is threatened by a cocaine smuggling operation being run through his business. Soon Al is involved not only in determining which of Caughlan's employees helped set up the cocaine smuggling, but also in finding out who killed Caughlan's young son, a nascent Stevie Ray Vaughn, and what impact this all has on her boss.

Green juggles a mob story with an insider's look at the music industry, and mixes it up with Al's dysfunctional family history. Family, for better or worse, is at the heart of Green's books. It is the complicated relationships between parent and child, siblings, cousins that provide the emotional background. Sometimes family is all you can count on. And sometimes family counts you out.

In Al's case, her mother committed suicide when she was a child, her father deserted her, and she roamed the meaner-than-mean streets of Brooklyn until her uncle and his domestic partner (gay and proud of it) track her down and take her in. Now her beloved Tio Bobby is dying, and it provides the catalyst for Al to put aside her tough-Puerto-Rican-chick persona and find the revelation and redemption all of Green's best main characters seek.

Green believes in action, lots of it. He believes in twists. He believes in redemption. The combination so far has led to some very satisfying books.

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