The road trip from Chicago to the West Coast is epic:
“The clutch slipped on the incline and she grunted it back into gear on the crest of a road leading dead west to deliverance.”
Nina’s first hurdle is a police road check.
Someone has been murdered.
It’s her first witnessed kill.
That thread won’t be picked up until much later in the story.
Joe is the master of threading tapestry. I’m thinking, I’m going to get lost. I’m thinking, nothing is going to tie in. And Joe is thinking, just try me.
The small bit gangsters of Chicago are almost cute, in their tough language and petty aspirations. But don’t cross ’em:
“He put on his hat without moving a hair, and spoke first. “Hey, Gerry boy, what’s goin’ on? What are ya, gettin’ donuts?”
“Yeah, Nicky, two glazed. How’s things? Beautiful car.” “It’s a Lincoln.” “I know, I know. Continental. 723 horses. Sweet.” Nicky smirked. “Yeah, real sweet.”
A young boy witnessed a murder. He’s up for charges.
His mother isn’t mourning the loss of her boyfriend, a small-time drug dealer. The boy is caught in-between something bigger. He’s framed by the mob but given an easy time in jail.
The gang boss shows compassion by telling the two hired thugs to leave the boy alone. Pay attention to these clues. There’s even mercy in the Gang Lands.
The plot unfolds nicely thank you:
“It was Oscar season, and every swell in that brothel would be out cock-knockin’.”
The author of The Last Meridian doesn’t balk at the evils of this world. He writes what he witnesses.This makes for compelling reading. You know half this stuff is made up, and the other is too believable not to believe it.
The words have a way of jumping out of the pages:
‘He was in the mood for a blonde, one who knew what he liked, a young woman with relaxed inhibitions, willing to accommodate his peccadilloes.’
He’s a wordsmith. But sometimes the words hint at a bigger note:
‘Candles burning, ice in the wine bucket, her bladder full, plastic under the sheets….’
Now that wasn’t the line I had in mind, but I liked it too much not to include it here.
It’s in the realm of The Last Meridian, where an Aurora Borealis of the mind offers less conjecture but more absolutes. I’m not going to give away the plot, nor offer conjecture about mind warp and astral traveling.
He deliberates over every word to get that right feel.
‘Arturo looked down at his mojito, having respected the requisite prayerful pause before taking in the first sip.’
I particularly liked the cat and mouse game played by the detectives:
“Detective Mercer loved facades. He loved dismantling them, most of all.”
One of the detectives offers a glass of water, after taking a sip from it. Its mind games at its best to trick the crooks into coming clean.
‘Mercer poured it… slowly. He took a swig, let out some air, looked at the glass, topped it off, and gave it to Castillo. It was the little things.’
But the Private Eye from Bakersville is the real deal. He’s the Marlboro Man of the book, distant, remote, a quiet achiever who will put up his fists for fresh leads:
“I’m a cynic about people having power over people without it. I have no special dislike for the Catholics—they seem like a good bunch.”
He only asks one thing from Nina, be honest. It’s a biggy but Nina is struggling with the concept.
He follows leads, and creates some when none are forthcoming:
‘A Raleigh hung straight down from his lip, itching for the clink of a Zippo.’
He’s working hard for is $55 bucks a day and even covers his own expenses.
He wants to solve Nina’s case. But he also wants her to be human. You can see she’s trying:
“Men like them have no sense of empathy. It’s all self-loathing and narcissism bundled in a pretty package. I could spit up an organ right in front of one and he’d still make a move on me.”
She’s already falling for the Private Dick from Bakersville who understands under Nina’s thin Hollywood veneer, she’s just another runaway from her past who made it to California for a new life.
Some get out alive, Summer and Audrey didn’t.
An Oil Man in the mix, now Private Dick has a hunch to work with.
He’ll drop names to create a buzz. Journos prefer ex cops, they don’t usually make up stories.
This book will get you thinking while reading, and it’ll have an afterglow that will get your thinking some more.
In the tradition of the great American novel, this book has all the ingredients of a Great Gatsby or On The Road. I’d even imagine Hemingway would give it a nod.
‘These people love gravel drives. It crunches under the tires of their Bentley—Bentley—the sound of home to old money.’
And here’s a tribute to Gastby if ever there was one:
“I can’t be in two places at once. You’re a brute sometimes. I don’t know why I put up with it.”
Here you go:
‘I’ve never met a woman who could change the temperature of a room by walking into it, a woman with a grace and muscular conscience that interacts like polymers to form a new quintessence of femininity.”
I deliberately kept away from the Raymond Chandlers and Elmore Leonards influences; I’ve never read them so it would be just showing off to mention their names. But I’d bet you’d find them if you asked the author.
And I found one here, has Chandler written all over it:
“Soon out of stall tactics, he clicked on the recorder, pencils sharpened and at the ready. “What’s on your mind, Nina?”
“Well, Mo, I may have to cancel our friendship.”
This book has blood and gore and sick moves:
‘Mercer shook his head as he ripped off a piece of the sandwich and offered it out to Mo, all the while chewing with his mouth open. Cheese dripped from his outstretched hand onto a close-up of Audrey’s open skull.’
It all serves a purpose, kinda:
“He could see the riot of words over his shoulder, but couldn’t make sense of them from his side of the barrier.”
The human condition is laid out for us:
“Why don’t you wait about ten minutes, then come in and tell him you can get him off with the Feds for smuggling if he cooperates. If I don’t have what I need by then, I’ll give you the nod.”
And advice is taken, take a spare sheet to a motel:
“I swear the hole in the wall over that bed had been shot there—just the right height to take out a cheating husband.”
And lastly, on blood and toil, books like this don’t get written without it:
‘He tried typing any gibberish he could to prod his brain, but wasted more paper and ribbon than he could afford.”
And why I think you should buy The Last Meridian, if this following quote don’t grab you by the balls and make you gag, I don’t know what will.
It’s not a fucking porn movie.
“He felt in the way of some rhetorical antiquity, the forming of a new archetype, like a delivery boy left in Churchill’s kitchen during the Blitz, unescorted and unattended, yet with access to history.”
And my final role-call on The Last Meridian. Hell, anyone could be knocked to oblivion by a drunk driver or have their son framed for murder for the sole reason of avoiding jail themselves. And there’s the rub:
“Filkins submerged himself in the discontent that addled the lives about which he was writing, had him wondering how much of what humans struggled with was of their own doing, and how much was just an astringent consequence of time and place.”
And the place you can never return?
Read the fucking book, for crying out loud.