This book is like an onion. A violent onion. There’s no backdrop here except the mountains. No one is a minor character. In each layer, each person is the center of his or her own story. They all have their own motives, their own reasons and fears, their own skin only they can inhabit. As such, no matter how intertwined they become, no matter what alliances – formal or otherwise – they make, in the end, they all stand alone.
Last Call for the Living is not the kind of uplifting, feel-good book you shut with satisfaction. It’s peopled with the disparate, desperate parts of humanity squeezed together, plucked and pulled, mined for the best and worst of themselves and pushed to their limits. Even those left standing are changed – no so much for the better or worse as much as forever. Like the line in that song from Wicked, they can’t say if they’ve been changed for the better, but they’ve been changed for good.
The catalyst is a bank robbery, planned by prisoners, by members of the Aryan Brotherhood, assisted by informants and gang members, and executed on the wrong day by the wrong person. Into the maelstrom go tellers and managers, mothers and neighbors, local and state law enforcement, victims and hostages, drug addicts and bar owners, church goers and criminals. Oh, and snakes. A whole lot of snakes. (Note: If you have snake issues, you might want to read this only in the mornings, with the lights on.) It’s the resulting collision course that makes up the plot of the book.
It’s dark and twisted and raw. And it’s fantastic.
Pros: Well-written, fast-paced, it’s a helluva good book. Terrific characterization that should satisfy all but the haughtiest of the literary set and the right about of double-crosses and shootouts to keep crime genre fans sated. Pretty cover, too.
Cons: It’s violent and profane and realistically depressing. If you’re already lacking faith in humankind, this won’t likely make you feel differently. It also feature characters, who, while realistically portrayed, are racist and sadistic and hateful.
Bottom Line: If you can handle the imagery and language and don’t need a happy, fairy-tale ending, pick this one up and read it already.